By Laila Kearney


NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former Long Island, New York, police chief to 46 months in prison for beating a handcuffed man suspected of theft and then leading an attempt to cover up the act, prosecutors said.


James Burke, 52, who ran the Suffolk County Police Department, pleaded guilty in February to violating the civil rights of Christopher Loeb, a resident of Smithtown, which is located in Suffolk County, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.


“With today’s sentence, Burke learned that no one is above the law and that the consequences for such egregious behavior are severe,” Robert Capers, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.


Burke has already served 11 months of his sentence.


"Mr. Burke will do his time, and he will come back and be and be a productive citizen again," defense attorney John Meringolo said.

Burke apologized to his family, to Loeb, to Suffolk police and to the court on Wednesday, Meringolo said, adding that the sentence given to his client was "just."

In December 2012, Loeb was detained and handcuffed after being accused of breaking into several cars and stealing a duffel bag that contained a gun belt, cigars, ammunition and other items from Burke's police car.

According to the federal grand jury indictment, Burke "slapped and punched" Loeb while he was handcuffed at a police station. Authorities said the chief and others then pressured detectives who witnessed the incident to conceal it.

The incident was among a string of recent events in which law enforcement officers have been accused of using excessive force. While most of those cases have involved African-Americans and other minorities, both Burke and Loeb are white.

Burke had worked for 31 years on the police force in Suffolk County, one of New York's largest counties, before stepping down from his post in October 2015.

He was arrested and arraigned in December following a federal probe.

The sentence, which was handed down by Judge Leonard Wexler, also includes three years of supervision for Burke after his release.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Adler)