A Suffolk judge will decide Thursday whether the county's top uniformed police official should be compelled to testify in a pretrial hearing for the man charged with stealing his gun belt and other things from his SUV.
The defense attorney for Christopher Loeb, 27, charged with stealing items from numerous cars in the St. James area, said Chief of Department James Burke is a central character in the case. During the hearing, officers testified that on Dec. 14, 2012, Burke showed up at Loeb's house and took the duffel bag that had been stolen from his department-issued GMC Yukon, and that later he spent one or two minutes alone with Loeb at the Fourth Precinct.
The hearing in Riverhead before State Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman is to determine whether statements Loeb made to police and other evidence should be admissible at trial.
Loeb has told family members Burke punched him in the stomach, his mother has said.
"It's quite obvious that Chief Burke's name has been mentioned throughout this hearing," said Loeb's attorney, Daniel Barker. "He's a legally relevant witness."
Barker said Burke tainted the search by removing evidence from the crime scene. The duffel bag held Burke's gun belt, ammunition, cigars and other items, witnesses have testified.
Burke's meeting with Loeb is relevant to whether Loeb's confession was voluntary, Barker said. He confessed only after that meeting, witnesses have testified.
"That time when Chief Burke is in the interrogation room is essential to the issue of voluntariness," Barker said.
But Assistant County Attorney Brian Mitchell, speaking on behalf of Burke, said Burke's testimony would add nothing to the hearing. He told Efman other witnesses have covered the entire case from before the search of Loeb's house through his arrest and ultimate confession at the Fourth Precinct. The only way Burke's testimony would be relevant is if Loeb first testifies that Burke hit him, but Barker has not said if he would put his client on the witness stand.
"The chief has denied any wrongdoing," Mitchell said. "It can't be forgotten, first and foremost, the chief is a victim in this case."
Special prosecutor Peter Crusco said Officer Anthony Leto testified that before Burke went into the room with Loeb, he said, "I just want to go in and take a look at him."
An incredulous Loeb began to object until Barker calmed him.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District are investigating whether Burke assaulted Loeb, law enforcement sources have said. Loeb is being held as a material witness in federal custody.