LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK (PIX11)– The lead detective is retiring in a criminal case that led the FBI to investigate claims of physical abuse by the police chief of one of the country’s biggest departments.
Detective Thomas Cottingham is retiring after 21 years of service, and weeks after FBI agents began investigating an incident in which Cottingham was a key player, and in which his boss, Chief of Department James Burke, is accused of foul play.
“Being the case officer means he takes the statements, writes the reports, he vouchers the evidence, he vouchers everything that was in that bag,” said Wally Zeins, a retired NYPD detective sergeant and PIX11 News consultant. He was referring to the duffel bag stolen from Chief Burke’s unmarked police SUV last December.
In it, according to police reports, was the chief’s gun belt, ammunition, handcuffs, and what police have reported as other items, that have yet to be identified.
Smithtown resident Chris Loeb, 26, was arrested for the crime, at his home on the night of the theft. Police information indicates that the chief himself showed up at Loeb’s home that night — a violation of the department rules he’s supposed to enforce — and he confronted Loeb.
Loeb’s family has told PIX11 News that their son said the chief beat him up, both in the Loebs’ home and later at the nearby police precinct, and in both cases, Loeb was handcuffed. Now, the man who supervised all of those events has tendered his resignation.
“He’s retiring because he wants to retire,” Zeins said. “He is not guilty in my eyes. He’s retiring, but if you llook at the whole picture, there’s something that is not right.
“He could have done everything 100 percent [correctly], but they may find something,” said Zeins, that could implicate the detective “or other people who may have been in that precinct on the day of arrest.”
Zeins, who is himself a retired detective, noted that if there is any cause for a federal grand jury to indict Detective Cottingham, “he could lose his pension now unless he retired.”
In Suffolk County, which has the highest paid officers in the country, that could mean an immediate loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, including unused sick and vacation pay, as well as family health care benefits.
If the lead detective is retiring in the underlying criminal case that led federal investigators to probe the police chief, Zeins said, it should come as no surprise that other senior officers who are close to the case may soon submit their retirement papers.
How those retirements might affect their testimony to the federal grand jury already looking into the accusations of abuse by the chief is unclear. However, said Zeins, “It’s so important that you read between the lines. There’s more to come.”
Loeb remains in the federal lockup in Brooklyn as a material witness in the abuse case. Chief Burke has denied wrongdoing in the case.