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Smithtown man says Suffolk police Chief James Burke violated his civil rights

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Smithtown resident Christopher Loeb, who is currently serving three years in prison for criminal possession of a weapon and violation of probation, says in a federal lawsuit that Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James Burke and six other officers beat, terrorized, and threatened him while he was in custody at the Fourth Precinct station house. On August, 22, 2014, he described the abuse he says occurred on Dec. 14, 2012. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams)

The Smithtown man who has said he was beaten by Suffolk Chief of Department James Burke while detained in the Fourth Precinct station house has filed a lawsuit against the officer and county, claiming his civil rights were violated during a December 2012 arrest.

Christopher Loeb, 28, who is serving 3 years in prison on concurrent sentences of criminal possession of a weapon and violation of probation, says in the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal district court that Burke "personally took part in and personally orchestrated" the alleged beating.

He seeks compensation for damages in excess of $150,000.

Suffolk County attorney Dennis Brown said he has not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment. A police spokesman has said in the past that Burke denies any wrongdoing.

The litigation charges Loeb was beaten, terrorized, chained to the floor and threatened while he was in custody Dec. 14, 2012, at the Fourth Precinct station house for 48 hours before being transferred to the Third Precinct so he could await arraignment.

The complaint, which also names six other officers as defendants, alleges that Suffolk County allowed Burke to commit several "unconstitutional and tortious acts," including the use of excessive force, covering up questionable conduct and failing to adequately screen, train "and/or discipline its officers."

In addition, the complaint charges that Burke and the county "did not rectify the problem, did not investigate, and did not institute better hiring standards and procedures" and that they "wholly lacked in their responsibilities to insure officers were acting in a constitutionally justified manner."

As a result Loeb "was seriously injured, and was subjected to great fear, terror, personal humiliation and degradation and suffered great physical pain and impairment, mental and emotional distress," the complaint said.

"This action is indicative of what occurs when a police department continually refuses to acknowledge, examine, and confront the misconduct and abuse perpetuated by its employees," said Loeb's attorney, Amy Marion of Garden City. "This police department has consistently refused to change and improve its hiring, training, and disciplining of its officers, resulting in high level officials and policymakers dictating a tolerance for abuse which pervades the department and goes untreated."

 

Bag taken from vehicle

Loeb was arrested Dec. 14, 2012, near his parent's 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.

Newsday first reported Loeb's arrest on Feb. 8, 2013. He was moved to federal custody in June 2013 after sources said the FBI and U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District launched an investigation into Burke's actions.

A special prosecutor from the Queens district attorney's office who ended up trying the Loeb case wrote in a January 2014 pretrial motion that the federal case against Burke was closed. Federal authorities have never said that the case against Burke was concluded.

On Jan. 24, 2014, Loeb pleaded guilty to taking Burke's gun belt and ammunition from the chief's department-issued vehicle and was sentenced to prison.

State Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman ruled Suffolk police violated Loeb's rights, in a Dec. 17, 2013, decision to suppress incriminating statements he made to police while in custody. Efman said in the finding Loeb's statements were inadmissible because he wasn't advised of his rights and not brought to court as soon as possible.

During an interview at the Washington Correctional Facility in upstate Comstock, Loeb said he knew the duffel bag he took belonged to someone in law enforcement because there was an empty bag nearby marked "evidence" tucked between "a bunch of clothes" inside the vehicle.

 

Differing accounts

Loeb said once he got home he took from the bag a gun belt that held two Glock 9-mm magazines and brought it downstairs. Investigators would later discover the gun belt in a vacuum cleaner in the basement.

He said he opened up the bag in his bedroom that morning to find gym shorts, toiletries, a stack of DVDs containing pornographic images on the covers and sex toys.

Authorities have said the bag contained a box of cigars, and a gun belt carrying ammunition, handcuffs and a whistle. Loeb testified in court that the bag also contained sex toys and about five DVDs of what he described during a 2013 hearing as "nasty porno."

Efman said officers' testimony that they had not seen any was "credible."

Loeb was on probation for grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property convictions when he said he broke into Burke's vehicle.

Records show probation officers reported that they failed to make contact with Loeb twice after a pair of brass knuckles were discovered in his home during a home visit in November 2012.

When they returned Dec. 14 accompanied by Suffolk's Fourth Precinct crime section, Loeb said he bolted out the back door of his parent's home before a probation officer caught up to him.

Once he was brought back in, Loeb said he saw detectives in his kitchen, in his den and in his bedroom. Loeb said the duffel bag was taken by a plainclothes detective he never saw again.

At the Fourth Precinct station house, Loeb said, he was interrogated for 10 hours and not only physically assaulted by Burke but also threatened and assaulted by other officers.

According to probation records, Burke showed up at Loeb's house to identify his items, but sources said he took his bag with him.

Records show Loeb was indicted three days after his arrest. The Suffolk County district attorney recused himself from the case Feb. 15, 2013, citing a conflict of interest. Burke was District Attorney Thomas Spota's chief investigator for a decade before the Bellone administration appointed him chief of police in 2012.

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