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Man at center of case with top Suffolk cop Burke says chief, other cops beat him

A police sergeant and a detective testified Friday

A police sergeant and a detective testified Friday that they saw the top uniformed official of the Suffolk County Police Department, Chief of Department James Burke, in the interrogation room where police were holding the man charged with stealing items from Burke's car. (June 3, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The man charged with stealing a duffel bag containing a gun belt and other items from Suffolk's top uniformed police official testified Wednesday that the top cop punched him in the head while his hands were chained to the floor in a precinct interrogation room.

Christopher Loeb, 27, testified that Chief of Department James Burke interrupted four other officers, two of whom were beating him, at the Fourth Precinct station house in Hauppauge on Dec. 14, 2012, before striking Loeb himself.

His testimony comes during a pretrial hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman in Riverhead to determine whether statements he signed are admissible at trial. Loeb is charged with stealing items from numerous cars in the St. James area, including from Burke's unlocked, police-issued GMC Yukon.

Earlier in the hearing, officers testified that Burke showed up at Loeb's house in Smithtown and, during a police search, took the duffel bag that had been stolen from the SUV, and that, later, Burke spent one or two minutes with Loeb in the interrogation room.

Loeb testified the duffel bag contained pornography and other items. The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District are investigating whether Burke assaulted Loeb, law enforcement sources have said. Loeb is being held as a material witness in federal custody.

When Burke walked into the room, Loeb said, he ordered the other officers out. "All four of them scattered out of the room," he testified during questioning by his attorney, Daniel Barker.

Loeb said Burke closed the door and grabbed his face with his left hand and squeezed it.

"Do you want to steal from me? Do you want to steal from me?" Burke said, according to Loeb, before punching him on the top of his head.

"He told me he's going to hit me with every charge he can," Loeb testified. "He said I'm not going to get a lawyer."

Loeb testified Burke warned him, "He said he was going to put my family through hell."

At that point, Loeb said, he told Burke he saw what was in his duffel bag, "and I called him a name."

"What was the name?" Barker asked.

"I'm not going to say the name," Loeb said. "It pertains to what's in the duffel bag." Loeb later testified that in addition to the gun belt and Nicaraguan cigars, the bag contained "nasty porn."

"He said no one would ever believe me," Loeb said. "That I'm a convicted felon and a dopehead."

Earlier, Loeb testified Officer Anthony Leto and another officer punched him in the face and the ribs when he demanded a lawyer. He said that as Leto choked him, he whispered to him that he would rape his mother.

In an interview in April, Loeb's mother, Jane, said her son made the same accusation to her about the officer's threat. In previous testimony, Leto was asked whether he struck Loeb and whether he made threats against Loeb's mother. Each time, he responded, "Absolutely not."

Burke has denied any wrongdoing. Assistant County Attorney Brian Mitchell and Burke's lawyer, Joseph Conway, watched Loeb testify. Conway declined to comment, but said Burke was in the courthouse ready to testify if called.

During cross-examination by special prosecutor Peter Crusco, Loeb said he had a $100-a-day heroin habit.

Loeb said two other officers heard the commotion and came in to urge Burke to leave. "Boss, leave it alone. Leave it alone," they said, according to Loeb.

Later, Loeb said Leto choked him again until he was unconscious and threatened to charge his mother with grand larceny. Jane Loeb also said in April that her son told her of that threat.

After another detective, Thomas Cottingham, made the same threat, Loeb said he finally agreed to sign a statement admitting breaking into the cars and stealing property.

Loeb was convicted in April 2012 of felony grand larceny.

During cross-examination by Crusco, Loeb said he thinks about that day "over and over, every day." He said he remembered Burke's duffel bag and what was in it, and he told Crusco he got it from Burke's SUV.

With Tania Lopez

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