One Long Island lawman who definitely would have been cheering when President Trump told cops in Suffolk County on Friday to be “rough” and “please, don’t be too nice” with those they arrest is former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke.
Burke was unable to attend the speech because he is presently Inmate 87450-053 at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex, having been sentenced just before the 2016 election to a 46-month term on charges that began with battering a handcuffed prisoner who had stolen a duffle bag of porn and sex toys from the trunk of his department car. The beating had turned savage when the prisoner, Christopher Loeb, had the temerity to call Burke a “perv.”
Burke also admitted to conspiring to obstruct justice by mounting a cover-up. He pressured the cops who were present to commit perjury and he became so worried about anybody else blabbing to the feds that he pulled three uncommonly skilled, knowledgeable and effective Suffolk County detectives from the joint Long Island Gang Task Force just as it was making considerable progress against MS-13.
By one count, the trio was instrumental in locking up 27 gang members in connection with 12 murders, along with numerous assaults and robberies over two years period before Burke removed them from the task force in 2012.
Detective John Oliva, widely viewed as the most knowledgeable of the three regarding MS-13, was transferred to a local precinct. He went from working a gang homicide to investigating the theft of a gumball machine from outside a shop.
Another of the detectives was Robert Trotta, who has gone on to become a Republican county legislator. He firmly believes that if he and his two comrades had just been allowed to continue their work in the task force, MS-13 would have been decimated on Long Island long before Trump was prompted to come.
“One hundred per cent,” Trotta told the Daily Beast on Saturday.
Trotta was at Friday’s speech, seated in the second row. He had the wrenching knowledge of what might have been as Trump introduced the parents of teens who had been murdered my MS-13.
“A lot of people would still be alive today,” Trotta told the Daily Beast. “Most if not all of those people's kids would still be alive today. No doubt in my mind.”
Perhaps because anybody who was a cop for a quarter century has encountered a well-heeled civilian buff who tries to be one of the guys, Trotta did not take Trump as seriously as others might have when he spoke of being rough with prisoners.
“While I don’t in any way condone beating prisoners, I think it was more tongue in cheek than serious,” Trotta said.
Trotta did allow that the former fiefdom of James Burke was not the venue to make light of such matters.
“Clearly it was the wrong spot for him to say it,” Trotta said.
Of course, Trump might have been tipped to that if his Long Island born-and-raised new communications director had bothered asking around rather than calling up a New Yorker writer to talk about a person in the White House having oral sex with himself. Any number of Anthony Scaramucci’s fellow Long Islanders might have told him to call Trotta.
Even so, Trump should not have needed anybody to alert him that the message carried a danger, whether or not it was half in jest.
“I do think that some overzealous cop might take it as, ‘Oh, the president said I can do it,’” Trotta said.
One person who should have been at Trump’s speech was Oliva, who knew more about MS-13 than anybody. He was forced out of the Suffolk County Police Department altogether after his removal from the task force.
“John Oliva should have been sitting next to me,” Trotta said.
Meanwhile, a federal investigation continues into a range of other possible crimes by Burke and others. Burke also refused to let his detectives cooperate with the FBI in the hunt for a serial killer who has left at least 10 bodies alongside Gilgo Beach in Suffolk County, among them a child. One question is whether Burke was worried about the feds in general – as he seems to have been in pulling the three detectives from the gang task force – or more particularly concerned that he might somehow be associated with the killings. Conspiracy theories abound.
What is clear is that three detectives demonstrated five years ago that they knew exactly how to take on MS-13, and that it has nothing to do with getting rough when you put a prisoner in the back of what Trump calls a "paddy wagon” or not placing your hand over a prisoner's head so he will not bang it against the door frame when you are putting him in a patrol car.
Imagine the speech Trump could have given if Scaramucci or somebody else on his staff had spoken to his fellow Republican Trotta beforehand.
Imagine if along with introducing the still grieving parents of the murdered teens, Trump had also introduced the detectives who might have prevented the killings in the first place. Imagine the cheers if Trump had then announced that the third member of the trio, Detective William Maldonado, is still on the job and back on the task force.
Imagine if we had a president who learned and thought before he spoke, rather than trying to be of the guys the way as his new hire, Scaramucci.
Instead, we have a president who sounds like as much of a mook as the Mooch.