Former Police Chief James Burke Sentenced to Prison in Suspect's Beating and Cover-Up
Former Suffolk County, New York, Police Chief James Burke was sentenced Wednesday to 46 months in federal prison after covering up the revenge beating of a man who stole a duffel bag filled with sex toys and pornography from his SUV, PEOPLE confirms.
Burke had pleaded guilty in February to a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and he was also sentenced Wednesday to three years of supervised release.
Burke, 52, had led one of the country’s largest suburban police departments after becoming chief in 2012. Then he was accused of assaulting probationer Christopher Loeb, who had been arrested for breaking into Burke’s car on Dec. 14, 2012.
Prosecutors say Loeb was attacked after being arrested at his mother’s home in Smithtown, New York, in December 2012 on a variety of parole violations.
During a search there, police found a cache of stolen merchandise, including Burke’s duffel bag, which contained his gun belt, several magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, a humidor, and a canvas bag with toiletries, clothing, sex toys and pornographic videos.
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According to prosecutors, CBS reports, Burke punched and kicked Loeb in the head and body after his arrest, as revenge when Loeb called him a “pervert” during a police interrogation.
During the attack, Loeb was handcuffed and chained to an eyebolt fastened to the floor. Burke also threatened to kill Loeb with a tainted heroin overdose.
Prosecutors say Burke then masterminded a years-long cover-up of the assault and pressured detectives to keep it quiet when federal authorities began investigating.
Burke was arrested on Dec. 9, 2015, and he has been in federal custody ever since. Some have tried to blame corruption in the Suffolk police department for the lack of progress in the Long Island Serial Killer case.
Current Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron told PEOPLE recently, however, that the Long Island Serial Killer case is a high-priority for investigators. He says a task force has been put in place to focus on the investigation.
“I can assure you our homicide section is working on this,” he says.
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Federal officials hailed Burke’s sentencing this week as proof of justice’s far reach.
“During his tenure as the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the Suffolk County Police Department, James Burke considered himself untouchable,” United States Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement. “He abused his authority by brazenly assaulting a handcuffed prisoner, he pressured subordinates to lie to cover up his criminal acts, and he attempted to thwart the civil rights investigation into his conduct.
“With today’s sentence, Burke learned that no one is above the law and that the consequences for such egregious behavior are severe.”
In his own statement, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said that Burke’s actions “not only threatened to undermine the integrity of a federal investigation, but also the reputation of all the Suffolk County police officers who value the laws they are sworn to uphold.”