SUFFOLK COUNTY, New York (PIX11) – Questions remain unanswered in the case of the alleged beating of a man by the chief of one of the country’s largest police departments. Suffolk County Chief of Department James Burke is the focus of a federal investigation looking into accusations that he beat up a suspect accused of stealing items from the chief’s SUV. How that probe was launched remains a mystery.
Larceny suspect Christopher Loeb, 26, is now in a federal holding facility after having spent half a year in the Suffolk County Jail, where his family was concerned for his safety. Loeb is expected to be a material witness in a federal investigation into the allegations against Chief Burke.
Loeb was at his parents’ home in Smithtown last December 14th when he and an alleged accomplice were arrested in connection with break-ins of more than a dozen cars. One of of those cars was the unmarked police-issued SUV belonging to Chief Burke.
After Loeb’s arrest, police records indicate, Chief Burke showed up at Loeb’s home. The larceny suspect’s family told PIX11 News what Loeb told them — that the chief beat him up in their home, and then beat him further after Loeb was taken to the local police precinct.
“My son cannot talk [publicly],” his mother said earlier this week, “but he did confide in his mother,” she said about his allegations of being the victim of physical abuse at the hands of a police leader.
The accusation of beating led to the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI’s civil rights division. However, neither Chris Loeb nor his family has filed any complaint about the abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of the chief. So it’s a mystery as to how the federal inquiry began in the first place.
“It’s not necessary for a victim to file a complaint,” said Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney in the Abner Louima and Sean Bell police abuse cases, among many others. “[The investigation] can be done based on information the U.S. Attorney’s Office gets from other sources.” And the FBI is the entity that carries out investigations for the U.S. Attorney, Rubenstein added.
However, said Wally Zeins, a retired NYPD detective sergeant and PIX11 News commentator, the FBI is very cautious about pursuing cases involving local and state police departments.
“The most important thing the FBI needs is cooperation from local law enforcement,” Zeins said, noting that the agency goes to great lengths to nurture relationships with police departments in order to get valuable intelligence and other assistance in investigations.
In this case, though, with the highest ranking uniformed officer in a department of 2,500 accused of beating the suspect who allegedly stole from him, the FBI appears to be responding with full force. At least a dozen Suffolk County officers close to the Loeb case have been served federal subpoenas.
Loeb allegedly stole Chief Burke’s duffel bag from the chief’s SUV. In that item of luggage were the chief’s gunbelt, ammunition, handcuffs and “other items,” according to police. Those other other items have yet to be identified.
Retired Detective Zeins said that the lack of information may make pique federal investigators’ interest. “[The FBI is] not going to violate [the] realationship they have with the Suffolk County Police Department unless they’ve got more information that the public doesn’t know about, that they’re investigating.”
Star attorney Rubenstein, in analyzing the possible origins of the federal probe, added insight to Zeins’s observation.
“Once an investigation has been done by federal authorities, wherever that investigation leads, that’s where it goes.”