Judge: Suffolk police violated suspect's rights
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A judge ruled Tuesday that Suffolk police violated the rights of the Smithtown heroin addict accused of stealing a gun belt and duffel bag from James Burke, the department's highest uniformed officer.
The ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman means a special prosecutor will not be able to use incriminating statements that police say Christopher Loeb, 27, made while in their custody if there is a trial.
Efman noted Loeb's claim that Burke and detectives beat him before they say he confessed to breaking into cars in the St. James area to steal items to support his heroin habit. However, Efman did not rely on the assertion when making his ruling.
Instead, Efman said Suffolk police obtained the confessions illegally by failing to remind Loeb during his lengthy interrogation that he had the rights to an attorney and to remain silent, and by failing to bring him to court for arraignment within 24 hours of his Dec. 14, 2012, arrest.
Thus, Efman said, "The statements were involuntary."
Loeb is charged with grand larceny, possession of stolen property and drug crimes. Burke's attorney has denied any beating took place.
Efman said that by finding Loeb's statements were inadmissible because he wasn't advised of his rights and not brought to court as soon as possible, there was no need to consider other issues.
"Not all of them were relevant to the legal issues before the court," he wrote.
Efman also ruled that the seizure of evidence from Loeb's house was lawful, even though it was done without a warrant.
Efman noted that because Loeb was on probation, he had essentially agreed to periodic searches of his home by law enforcement officers.
During a lengthy pretrial hearing, officers testified that Burke showed up at Loeb's house during the search and took his duffel bag. Loeb testified during the hearing that the bag contained "nasty pornography."
Efman acknowledged the claim, but said officers' testimony that they had not seen any pornography in the bag was "credible." He said Loeb's defense seemed to suggest "that the alleged abusive behavior by police was prompted by a desire to cover up evidence of the pornography."
Efman didn't address the issue any further.
In the Riverhead courtroom Tuesday, Efman reminded Loeb that he admitted to several crimes during the hearing and told him he "has some important decisions to make" before he returns to court Jan. 17.
Special prosecutor Peter Crusco, appointed because of Burke's close ties to Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, said, "We respect the decision of the court."
Defense attorney Daniel Barker said he would discuss how to proceed with his client in the next few weeks.