Feds should probe alleged LI police misconduct

Suffolk Chief of Police James C. Burke. (June Suffolk Chief of Police James C. Burke. (June 3, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

The U.S. Justice Department has stepped in to determine whether James Burke, a high-ranking Suffolk County police official, violated the civil rights of a suspect the officer is alleged to have punched.

A man arrested on charges of breaking into an unmarked police vehicle assigned to Burke, chief of department, told his family that Burke hit him in a Fourth Precinct squad room.

The incident that sources told Newsday was under federal investigation was said to have occurred in December when Christopher Loeb was arrested on charges of breaking into Burke's vehicle and stealing the officer's gun belt and other items.

It's good that the feds are looking into the Suffolk allegations, but they ought to expand their investigation west, into Nassau County, where a police internal affairs report uncovered by Newsday last week detailed a horrendous and frightening abuse.

The report by the Internal Affairs division found that after a night of drinking, off-duty Officer Anthony DiLeonardo escalated a traffic dispute in Huntington Station and shot cabdriver Thomas Moroughan twice and broke his nose with blows from DiLeonardo's gun butt.

The report concluded that DiLeonardo committed several unlawful acts, including assault, criminal use of a firearm and driving while ability was impaired. DiLeonardo kept his job. No criminal charges have been filed in Suffolk County, where the incident occurred.

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Are there other instances where officers are accused of wrongdoing? And have they, like DiLeonardo, never faced criminal charges?

Even more disturbing than the allegations, however, has been the response from both counties.

In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone -- twice -- issued the same blanket statement supporting Burke.

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Shouldn't he, instead, have reassured Suffolk residents that the county will cooperate in getting to the bottom of the disturbing allegations?

In Nassau, County Executive Edward Mangano remained silent on the DiLeonardo Internal Affairs report until reporters brought it up during an unrelated news conference.

Even then, Mangano would say only that he expected the police department to investigate and mete out appropriate "discipline."

Where is the outrage? Where is the sense of urgency? Where is the recognition by the counties' top elected officials that the public's trust in both police departments, justly, is shaken?

The Justice Department already had been looking at Suffolk, where an investigation into allegations of discriminatory policing against Hispanics is ongoing.

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Nassau's handling of DiLeonardo's case deserves outside scrutiny, too.

The allegations of beating a suspect in Suffolk and the Internal Affairs report on an unjustified shooting and beating of an unarmed man by a Nassau officer are serious.

Residents deserve to know what happened and how Suffolk and Nassau intend to resolve both cases. If the counties can't -- or won't -- dig in, the federal government should.

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