County Executive Steve Bellone’s hope that the scandal in Suffolk’s police department would end with the indictment of former chief of department James Burke was chucked out of the window by a federal prosecutor Wednesday.
“Stay tuned,” Robert L. Capers, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York told a crowd of reporters gathered in the courthouse library in Central Islip.
Because the investigation isn’t over yet.
And while Capers declined to elaborate on how many detectives or other personnel may have been involved in what prosecutors contend was a Burke-orchestrated cover-up of a beating administered to a suspect in the Fourth Precinct in 2012, he did say that the case was ongoing.
“Wherever the investigation takes us,” Capers said, “we will go.”
As it is, federal allegations against Burke appear to extend beyond Suffolk’s former chief of department — and into operations of the department and other government agencies itself.
Among the allegations:
- Burke and unnamed others pressured Suffolk detectives who witnessed Burke punch and kick Christopher Loeb — in an interview room at Fourth Precinct — to conceal what they had seen.
- That such pressure continued, even after the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened the first federal investigation in 2013.
- That Burke, in one instance, summoned detectives under his command to police headquarters in Yaphank to coax agreement on a false version of events.
- And that one detective falsely testified under oath in a state pretrial hearing on Loeb’s criminal case, denying that an assault had taken place.
Prosecutors, in a letter to Judge Leonard D. Wexler, went on to allege that Burke threatened to kill Loeb — who ultimately pleaded guilty to stealing a duffel bag from a department-issued SUV parked outside Burke’s home — by “stating that he would make sure” that the heroin addict received a “hot shot,” which is slang for a fatally dose of heroin or other lethal chemical combination.
The letter alleges that Burke continued to assault and scream and curse at Loeb until a detective — who, presumably, was present — said, “Boss, that’s enough, that’s enough.”
During a brief court appearance, Burke pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting and thereby violating the civil rights of Loeb and conspiracy to obstruct a federal civil rights investigation. At one point, as he scanned the courtroom, a woman waved toward him.
He is due back in court on Friday, for what’s supposed to be a closed bail hearing.
But really, with allegations of a cover-up, reaching into the department and lasting almost three years, isn’t it time for every allegation to be aired and to be addressed. And if necessary, to be resolved — or maybe even reformed?
As Capers said, “Stay tuned.”