A Suffolk County attorney said Friday that Police Chief James Burke made a mistake when he showed up during a 2012 probation visit at the Smithtown home of the man suspected of taking the top cop's duffel bag but did not violate the suspect's civil rights.
"We absolutely deny any ill conduct toward this guy," deputy county attorney Brian Mitchell said during an initial conference hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip over a lawsuit that Christopher Loeb, 28, filed in February against the county, Burke and several officers.
The suit claims Loeb was beaten by police at his home and then again at the Fourth Precinct, where he was terrorized, chained to the floor and threatened while in custody.More storiesJames Burke: Complete coverage
Loeb seeks compensation for damages in excess of $150,000.
Loeb pleaded guilty in January 2014 to taking Burke's bag. He is serving 3 years in prison on charges of criminal possession of a weapon and violation of probation.
Loeb was arrested Dec. 14, 2012, near his home in Smithtown during a violation of probation home visit just hours after he took a duffel bag from Burke's vehicle in nearby St. James.
In a 2013 hearing, Loeb testified the bag contained gym shorts, toiletries, sex toys and about five DVDs of what he described as "nasty porno."
Authorities have said the bag contained a box of cigars, and a gun belt carrying ammunition, handcuffs and a whistle.
After the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke, Loeb's attorney, Amy Marion of Garden City, said Burke had pornography and "disturbing items" in his duffel bag that may have prompted him to conduct himself the way he did.
"It's just not consistent with reasonable behavior . . . it's unusually odd for a chief to go to the scene of a petty theft to look at the person who may have stolen cigars?" Marion said.
During the probation visit that normally is conducted by one or two officers, law enforcement sources said, dozens of officers showed up to Loeb's home.
"It seems strange to me that the chief who is a victim of a crime to go to a crime scene himself. That seems off to me," Locke said Friday.
Mitchell told Locke that Burke showed up to Loeb's home to retrieve his duffel bag after Loeb was no longer present and only after the bag and the items inside were photographed and logged in and to personally thank the officers for doing a good job.
Locke then asked why Burke showed up to the precinct where Loeb was being held.
Mitchell responded, "Poor judgment," then added that Burke wanted to see if he recognized Loeb because he lived in the area.
"There's no force. There's no contact," Mitchell said, adding there is no medical evidence that suggests Loeb was hurt and his mug shots don't show any obvious signs of physical force used against him.
Mitchell then rhetorically asked if it was usual for a victim to enter a crime scene. "Probably not," he said.
The next court date is scheduled for July 30.