Suffolk police chief already accused of beating up a man in custody faces FBI scrutiny for further, widespread offenses

Posted at 7:21 PM, Jul 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-22 19:28:43-04

(PIX11) — Significant new developments in the ongoing story of a powerful local police chief accused of violating the civil rights of a man in police custody by beating the man up, point to further wrongdoing by the chief.

Not only did Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke violate his own department’s policy by showing up at the home of a suspect charged with committing a crime against the chief, additional details indicate that the entire police activity that led to the alleged abuse may have been illegal.

“What you do is when you see evidence that you want [to confiscate], you don’t take it,” said retired NYPD sergeant and PIX11 News consultant Wally Zeins about the police action at the home of larceny suspect Chris Loeb, 26, on the morning of Dec. 14 of last year.  “You leave it there, secure the premises, then you go get the search warrant.”

As a nearly three-decade veteran supervisor of detectives, Zeins knows the proper way to search for evidence. He also told PIX11 News that he knows that when officers working under Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke went to Loeb’s home in Smithtown that December morning, not only were they there improperly, but their presence on scene “as a policy, it’s against the law,” Zeins said.  “It’s totally wrong.”

Police say that early on that December morning, Loeb and an accomplice broke into about a dozen cars in the community of Saint James, Long Island, and stole items from cars.   One of those vehicles was the unmarked police SUV of Chief Burke.

About nine hours later, probation officers showed up at the home of larceny suspect Loeb, who was on probation for a previous crime.  Newsday first reported that the probation officers had gotten clearance the day before the car break-ins to enter Loeb’s home.  However, that clearance was only to check on Chris Loeb, to ensure that he had not violated his probation.  Such unannounced visits, approved by the county parole board, are standard procedure.

Typically, in the case of a nonviolent offender like Loeb, only probation officers can make a house visit.  They usually show up alone, or occasionally with one or two police officers, for security purposes.  Officers are not permitted to fulfill any further role without a search warrant.

However, according to a number of PIX11 News sources, as well as Loeb’s family, who were on scene that day, at least 10 officers showed up with the probation officers.  The police searched Loeb’s entire home, extensively. There is no indication that police had a search warrant signed by a judge, which is required.

Also, according to police records, the chief showed up at Loeb’s home while his officers were there — a violation of his own department’s policy, which prohibits contact between crime victims and crime suspects.  Suspect Chris Loeb claims that the chief beat him in his home.

What had been stolen from the chief’s SUV was a duffel bag containing the chief’s gun belt, handcuffs and ammunition, as well as other items that have yet to be listed.

“What [police] did is they found what they wanted before they had the search warrant,” said Zeins. “So they wanted to get the search warrant [later] to justify what they [had] found.”

But they apparently never got a warrant.  It’s one of many issues being looked at now by the FBI, which has subpoenaed more than a dozen officers who’d been at Loeb’s home or at the local police precinct on the morning of his arrest.  At that precinct, the Suffolk County Fourth, Loeb claims that Chief Burke beat him up again, while Loeb was handcuffed.

The chief has denied any wrongdoing.