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Records: Search of suspect's home OKd before alleged break-in

Chief of the Suffolk County Police Department James

Chief of the Suffolk County Police Department James Burke addresses Suffolk County legislators in Hauppauge on Feb. 2, 2012. Credit: Ed Betz

A search of the home of a Smithtown man accused of breaking into Suffolk Police Chief of Department James Burke's vehicle was approved a day before the suspected break-in, law enforcement records show.

The Suffolk County probation department search, which records say was to look for narcotics and/or weapons, was given the go-ahead on Dec. 13, 2012.

On Dec. 14 around 12:30 a.m., according to a police arrest report and court records, Christopher Loeb and an accomplice broke into Burke's department-issued GMC Yukon and took a duffel bag containing his gun belt, ammunition, cigars and other items. Loeb was on probation for an April 2012 grand larceny conviction.

Sometime after 10 a.m., Loeb and Gabriel Miguelez were arrested during the search of Loeb's home, according to the arrest report and law enforcement records. The items taken from Burke's vehicle were found in the home, records state.

The sequence of events, law enforcement sources said, is being examined as part of a federal probe into whether Burke violated Loeb's civil rights. Loeb, 26, has told family members that Burke punched him in the stomach while in police custody at the Fourth Precinct, his mother, Jane Loeb, said.

Burke has said that he did not commit any wrongdoing.


Search's merits unclear

It is not clear why the home search was approved.

Law enforcement sources said an operational plan that would outline the specific reasons for the search must be submitted and approved by a supervisor before probation officers could conduct a search. In addition, a thorough search of someone's premises would require a judge to issue a search order. Federal officials have subpoenaed that operational plan, which would include a judge's search order, the sources said.

Suffolk County Probation Department director Patrice Dlhopolsky and Assistant Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Errol Toulon did not return calls seeking comment. The Suffolk Police Department said it would not comment on the case.

At least 10 probation and police officers went to the home to conduct the search, law enforcement sources and Loeb's family said.

"It was like a SWAT team out there," said Jane Loeb, who was home when the officers first arrived. "And the next thing two cops came, undercover cops, plainclothes and then the next thing, cops, more cops."

Joint operations involving the police and probation departments on a low-level offender, such as Loeb, are rare, sources said.

"If he conducted a violent crime it would be warranted," said a source. "Was it anything violent that would require that many officers involved, especially for a routine search? It was too extreme."

New York State probation law allows probation and parole officers to conduct searches only if they have reasonable cause to believe that the probationer or parolee has violated the conditions of their sentence.

A spokeswoman for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services said police can accompany probation officers on home visits only to assist, not to initiate a search. A judge would have to authorize a warrant if police wanted to conduct a search.

"It is important to note that police cannot use a home visit as a pretext for a warrantless search by a police officer," spokeswoman Janine Kava said.


More subpoenas expected

Loeb's supervision level at the time of the search required him to have contact with his probation officer two or more times a month. One of those contacts would take place during a home visit, at which officers would primarily verify residence, assess living conditions and monitor compliance with probation conditions.

The FBI has served nearly a dozen subpoenas on Suffolk police officers, detectives and headquarters personnel who may have direct or indirect knowledge of what happened the day of Loeb's arrest at his Smithtown home or at the Fourth Precinct, where he was processed. More subpoenas will be issued soon, sources said.

Law enforcement documents place Burke at Loeb's home during the search and arrest. Burke's bag and gun belt were found in the home's basement, records show.

Suffolk County rules and procedures say police supervisors and top brass should not participate in routine matters and should allow subordinates to carry out those functions.

Jane Loeb said her son ran out the back door when the first officers arrived. She said the officers chased and caught him.

By noon, Loeb said, there were 10 police officers at her house.

"It was a mess," she said. "They tore everything looking for stuff. At the end of all this, one police officer had a plastic bag . . . and then they went down to the basement. And they were looking and looking. They knew what they were looking for, it was so strange."

Loeb faces charges that include fourth-degree grand larceny, fourth- and fifth-degree possession of stolen property, seventh-degree possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon after allegedly implicating himself in a statement he gave to police at the Fourth Precinct.

Loeb, who sources say is now in federal custody as a material witness, is due back in court Aug. 6.

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