The former police chief for Suffolk County, New York, pleaded guilty Friday to beating and threatening to kill a man who broke into his SUV and stole a bag of personal belongings, including sex toys.
James Burke, 51, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and violating the suspect's civil rights in New York federal court. A sentencing hearing was not immediately scheduled, but Burke had faced 20 years in prison if convicted at trial.
“The defendant violated his oath and responsibilities as a law enforcement officer by exacting personal vengeance, assaulting a handcuffed suspect, and abusing his authority as the highest ranking uniformed member of the Suffolk County Police Department,” Robert Capers, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.
In 2012, Christopher Loeb allegedly broke into Burke’s department-issued SUV and stole a gun belt, magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, humidor, and a canvas bag that contained, among other items, sex toys and porn, according to court records.
Loeb was subsequently arrested at his mother’s home and taken to a local precinct for processing. In a letter arguing against bail for Burke, prosecutors said the former police chief walked into the interrogation room where Loeb was handcuffed and hit him, including punches to his head and body.
Loeb, who eventually pleaded guilty to a weapons charge, called Burke “a pervert,” mistakenly believing the porn he found had a minor on the cover. Prosecutors said that caused Burke to go out of control, screaming and assaulting Loeb until a detective said, “Boss that’s enough, that’s enough.”
Burke also threatened to kill Loeb with a “hot shot,” a fatally strong dose of heroin or one mixed with chemicals or poison.
Prosecutors said Burke and others in the department pressured the detectives who witnessed the assault to cover up the incident, despite investigations by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Loeb, who was sentenced to three years in prison and released last summer, has filed a lawsuit against Burke and the police department.
Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.
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