James Burke hearing: 2 more cops testify they saw him in room with suspect

Chief of Suffolk Police James C. Burke seen

Chief of Suffolk Police James C. Burke seen in a June 3, 2013 photo. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Two more subpoenaed Suffolk cops testified Monday they saw Suffolk Police Chief of Department James Burke go into the interrogation room where the man accused of taking a duffel bag out of Burke's vehicle was held.

Fourth Squad Det. Christopher Nealis testified he first met suspect Christopher Loeb, 27, sometime between 10:30 and 11 a.m. in an interview room Dec. 14. His role, Nealis testified, was to give Loeb a card advising him of his rights. During cross-examination at Monday's pretrial hearing, Nealis testified his interrogation of Loeb failed and he initially saw four criminal-intelligence officers go into the interview room with Loeb afterward.

Loeb was indicted Dec. 28 on nearly 30 counts that include criminal possession of stolen property and criminal possession of a weapon. He is accused of taking a duffel bag containing Burke's gun belt, ammunition, handcuffs, cigars and other items from his department-issued vehicle. Testimony has indicated there was no gun in the bag.

When questioned by special prosecutor Peter Crusco, Nealis testified he saw Burke at the precinct sometime between noon and 1 p.m.

"He came in, he greeted everybody that was in the squad room," Nealis testified. "He went into the room where Christopher Loeb was."

Nealis said he was sitting at his desk when he observed Burke go into the room for a minute or less, but that he was not sure if Burke entered the room alone or with another officer. During cross-examination, he later said detectives were already in the room when Burke entered. Nealis did not remember if he saw detectives leave the interrogation room before Burke.

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Also testifying was criminal intelligence officer Anthony Leto. He said the criminal intelligence team became involved after learning about a series of car break-ins that occurred in the St. James area.

Leto testified he spoke to Loeb about 11 a.m. in the interrogation room and that he went in with two other detectives to debrief Loeb and see if he was an informant. Burke wanted to see if he could recognize Loeb from the area.

He testified he could not remember what, if anything, Burke said to Loeb. "It was very quick," Lieto testified.

"Have you ever seen him [the chief] enter an interrogation room with a suspect?" Loeb's defense attorney Daniel Barker asked.

"No," Nealis, a veteran of 27 years, responded.

At about 3 p.m., after Burke and criminal intelligence officers had already been in and out of the interrogation room with Loeb, Nealis testified that Loeb told him, "that guy had some pornography."

"I tried to push him on it and he shut down right away," Nealis testified.

Det. Thomas Cottingham, the lead investigator on the Loeb case, would later take two confessions from Loeb, Nealis testified. He said he did not witness the confessions though he testified he signed papers as a witness.

Loeb, of Smithtown, was on probation in an April 2012 grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property conviction and was, according to a probation officer who testified last week, in violation of the terms of his supervision.

Brian Draiss, a police officer with the crime unit, was one of the first four law enforcement officials to arrive at Loeb's home for the search with Loeb's probation officer. Draiss said there was there was "zero porn," in Burke's bag. "None."

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