The Suffolk County district attorney’s office division chief of investigations, Christopher McPartland, requested James Burke’s Internal Affairs files from police shortly before the former top uniformed officer officially took over the job in 2012, according to law enforcement sources.
The request was made in December 2011 after it was known that Burke was going to be chief of department, the sources said.
The timing of the request was unusual because newly elected County Executive Steve Bellone already had made the decision to tap Burke as Suffolk’s top cop and Burke had just spent almost a decade in Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office, eventually becoming his top investigator, the sources said.
Deputy Insp. Stanley Grodski, who was then a member of the Internal Affairs Unit, fielded the call from McPartland requesting all of Burke’s Internal Affairs files, said the sources, who asked not to be identified for fear that they would be targets for retaliation.
Following the chain of command, Grodski took McPartland’s request to departing Deputy Commissioner Roger Shannon who discussed it with outgoing Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, and they authorized the release of Burke’s files, the sources said.
Included in the files were the results of three known investigations of Burke that dated from the 1990s — when he was an officer in the police department. One of those investigations found Burke guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer for his relationship with a known felon and losing his police-issued weapon twice.
It is not clear if the files ever were sent to McPartland, one of the sources said.
When asked why those files would be requested, Spota’s spokesman, Robert Clifford, said, “At no time did Mr. McPartland request or receive James Burke’s Internal Affairs files.”
One Suffolk law enforcement source said the request raised eyebrows because its timing was so close to Burke’s swearing-in.
“This was unusual,” the law enforcement source said. “They didn’t want these files floating around. . . . Burke was going to be anointed and he was Spota’s guy and there was a lot of stuff in the files.”
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant who teaches criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said there would have been no point for a district attorney to ask for Burke’s files so many years after the Internal Affairs investigations had been concluded.
“They can’t do anything with them anyway,” he said. “They’ve all been closed out either through administrative interviews or anything like that so there is really not much they can do with them.”
Copies of all the investigations into Burke remain with Internal Affairs, another source said. Files prepared before 1994 are stored on microfiche; the rest are stored as hard copies.
There are three known Internal Affairs investigations on Burke that predate his time working for the district attorney’s office.
The first known investigation, #92-130, was launched in 1992 after allegations surfaced that Burke was consuming illegal drugs and that he was taking drugs from dealers and failing to invoice them as police property. The drug-use allegation was unfounded, the report said, and the invoice accusation was found to be unsubstantiated.
Unfounded means the act did not occur and the complaint is false. Unsubstantiated means the act cannot be resolved by investigation because sufficient evidence is not available or there are material conflicts in statements obtained.
The second Internal Affairs report, #93-152, found that Burke engaged in a personal, sexual relationship with Lowrita Rickenbacker, “a convicted felon known to be actively engaged in criminal conduct including the possession and sale of illegal drugs, prostitution and larceny.”
The 1995 report also found he engaged in sexual acts with Rickenbacker while on duty and in uniform. In addition he was found to have failed to safeguard his service weapon. In one instance, according to the report, the weapon ended up in Rickenbacker’s possession “for a period in time.” The report said Burke was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer as a result of its findings.
The third case, #99-41, involves a Smithtown couple going through a divorce. The husband of the woman in the divorce case filed a complaint against Burke with Internal Affairs in 1999 and charged that Burke was “involved in prostitution activity and supplying persons with drugs.” In 2002, Internal Affairs determined the allegations were unsubstantiated.
While the 1992 and Rickenbacker Internal Affairs investigations were underway, sources have said, Burke had been considered for a promotion, but was eventually denied because of his past record.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Burke on charges that he struck a prisoner and then attempted to cover up the assault.
Burke has pleaded not guilty.
A federal grand jury has notified McPartland that he is a target of the U.S. attorney’s office’s ongoing investigation into Burke. Investigators are probing if McPartland participated in meetings with Suffolk law enforcement officials and encouraged them to lie about Burke’s actions in the assault of a Smithtown man, other sources said.
Burke, 51, has known Spota for decades. As an assistant district attorney, Spota used Burke to testify in the 1979 murder case of a Smithtown boy who died after rocks were shoved down his throat. He began working for Spota in 2002.
Bellone appointed Burke as chief of department before naming Edward Webber as commissioner in 2012.
Politicians, officials and others have said Spota was one of Burke’s biggest cheerleaders for the job and recommended him.
“This thing with the prostitute was in his file for sure so Spota took a big chance by putting him in for a promotion knowing he had a checkered past to begin with,” Giacalone said. “You are the district attorney for an entire county in New York State, and if you are going to put somebody in for police chief, you would make sure that he was totally vetted because your name would be attached to that in perpetuity.”