Ex-New York police chief who once led Gilgo Beach probe charged with soliciting sex in park

NEW YORK (AP) — A former suburban New York police chief who once led the Gilgo Beach killings investigation and later went to prison for beating a suspect was arrested again Tuesday after authorities say he attempted to engage in sex with an undercover ranger at a Long Island park.

James Burke, Suffolk County’s police chief from 2012 to 2015, was arrested around 10:15 a.m. at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Farmingville after exposing himself to the ranger and saying he was interested in oral sex, according to an arrest report obtained by the Associated Press.

Burke, 58, then attempted to leverage his status as a former law enforcement official to get out of the arrest, which was part of a targeted operation spurred by complaints about people soliciting sex in the park, officials said at a news conference Tuesday.

As he was being taken into custody, Burke asked the rangers if they knew who he was and told them that getting arrested would be a "public humiliation for him,” Sgt. Brian Quattrini said. The ranger who arrested Burke did not recognize him, Quattrini added.

Burke is charged with offering a sex act, public lewdness, indecent exposure and criminal solicitation, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said. Burke was taken to a police station for processing. Information on his arraignment wasn't immediately available.

Burke’s lawyer in his previous case died last year. It wasn't immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf regarding Tuesday's arrest. The Suffolk County district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Burke led the Suffolk County Police Department for a tumultuous three-year period that culminated in his arrest and guilty plea to federal charges for beating a handcuffed man suspected of stealing pornography, sex toys and other items from his department SUV.

The scandal also toppled the county's longtime district attorney and the county's top corruption prosecutor, who were convicted of helping Burke cover up the beating.

During his tenure, Burke oversaw the high-profile investigation into the deaths of multiple sex workers whose remains were found in the area of Gilgo Beach on a desolate stretch of Long Island coastline.

Burke has been criticized over his handling of the investigation by other law enforcement officials, who said he blocked his department’s cooperation with federal authorities. A man suspected of committing at least three of the killings was arrested earlier this summer.

Burke resigned in late 2015, just before federal prosecutors charged him in the beating and cover-up that put him behind bars. He served 40 months in prison and was released in 2019. His probation ended last year.

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, 81, and the chief of Spota’s anti-corruption bureau, Christopher McPartland, 57, are both serving five-year prison sentences for witness tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

Spota and Burke had a kinship that dated to the ex-chief’s teenage years in the late 1970s, when he was a star witness in a murder case that Spota was prosecuting.

Burke started out as a New York City police officer in the mid-1980s but soon moved to the Suffolk County department, one of the largest suburban forces in the country with 2,500 officers.

Before he became chief, Burke had survived an internal department probe in 1995, first reported by Newsday, that concluded he had a relationship with a woman engaged in prostitution and drug dealing, and had engaged in sex acts in police vehicles while on duty and in uniform.