Ex-po­lice chief draws nearly four years in prison in beat­ing case

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Frank Elt­man

CEN­TRAL ISLIP >> A sub­ur­ban New York po­lice chief who or­ches­trated a depart­ment cover-up af­ter beat­ing a hand­cuffed man for steal­ing em­bar­rass­ing items from his SUV has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in­di­cated other charges may be loom­ing for ac­com­plices who aided the coverup.

For­mer Suf­folk County Po­lice Chief James Burke apol­o­gized to his vic­tim, the judge, his fam­ily and his Long Is­land com­mu­nity be­fore be­ing sentenced to 46 months Wed­nes­day.

U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Leonard Wexler said Burke’s crimes went be­yond the beat­ing and af­fected the en­tire 2,000-mem­ber po­lice depart­ment.

“I feel Mr. Burke acted as a dic­ta­tor,” the judge said as the for­mer chief sat sto­ically with his hands folded in front of his chin.

Wexler noted more than 80 peo­ple wrote let­ters seek­ing le­niency, call­ing Burke a good man who helped many peo­ple in a 31-year ca­reer. But, Wexler said, “He also did bad if you were not on his side. That’s cor­rup­tion.”

In a pre-sen­tenc­ing let­ter, pros­e­cu­tors said “high­rank­ing of­fi­cials” from other county agen­cies helped Burke si­lence po­ten­tial whistle­blow­ers af­ter he pum­meled a heroin ad­dict who had taken his gun belt, am­mu­ni­tion, a box of ci­gars and a bag con­tain­ing sex toys and pornog­ra­phy.

Of­fi­cers sub­poe­naed by FBI agents in­ves­ti­gat­ing the 2012 beat­ing were in­ter­ro­gated after­ward about whether they had talked, pros­e­cu­tors said. Un­named co-con­spir­a­tors had warned some that if they ad­mit­ted wrong­do­ing, their union would not pay their le­gal fees, pros­e­cu­tors said.

A union of­fi­cial falsely told sev­eral of­fi­cers Burke and “other high-rank­ing Suf­folk County law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties” had ob­tained copies of FBI me­mos con­tain­ing the names of peo­ple speak­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors. One of­fi­cer told a fed­eral agent he was “a dead man,” if that were true, the let­ter said.

As a re­sult, of­fi­cers work­ing the night of the beat­ing or heard Burke brag about it at a Christ­mas party stayed quiet for years, pros­e­cu­tors said. One lied in court and said the at­tack had not hap­pened.

“In terms of ob­struct­ing jus­tice, it is hard to imag­ine a more se­ri­ous ex­am­ple of this con­duct than the high­est-rank­ing uni­form mem­ber of the po­lice depart­ment as­sault­ing a sus­pect and then or­ches­trat­ing a cover-up of his ac­tions for three years dur­ing which he sub­orned per­jury and pre­vented wit­nesses from telling the truth,” U.S. At­tor­ney Robert Capers said in the let­ter.

The ex-po­lice chief pleaded guilty last win­ter in the beat­ing and cover-up. He asked for no prison time be­cause he says his mother is dy­ing of can­cer.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing.

Burke be­came chief of the Suf­folk County Po­lice Depart­ment, one of the coun­try’s largest sub­ur­ban po­lice forces, in 2012 af­ter serv­ing for nearly a decade as chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor for Suf­folk County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Thomas Spota.

Pros­e­cu­tors called Burke’s time as chief a “reign of ter­ror.”

They said he kept liquor in his of­fice and reg­u­larly drove drunk. He had sub­or­di­nates con­duct surveillance on his girl­friends, pros­e­cu­tors said. In 2013, he had a con­trac­tor il­le­gally put a GPS de­vice on a high-rank­ing civil­ian po­lice of­fi­cial he dis­liked, hop­ing to gather black­mail in­for­ma­tion, pros­e­cu­tors said.

Ques­tions of Burke’s fit­ness to lead sur­faced as far back as 1995, when he twice was found to have failed to safe­guard his weapon. In­ter­nal Af­fairs re­ports also found Burke had en­gaged in sex­ual acts in po­lice ve­hi­cles and had a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with a con­victed felon.

STEVE PFOST/NEWSDAY VIA AP, FILE

In this Dec. 9 file photo, for­mer Suf­folk County Po­lice Chief James Burke is es­corted to a ve­hi­cle by FBI per­son­nel out­side an FBI of­fice in Melville.

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