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James Burke

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. File photo

Jurors rendered the verdicts Dec. 17 for former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and the head of his corruption bureau Christopher McPartland.

On the charge of conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.” On the charge of witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.” On the charge of obstruction of justice against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.”

The case revealed local corruption and cover-ups that required the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. Some officials, who have issued formal statements, say they are thrilled with the outcome, including current Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

“As we learned, the very people charged with upholding the law were the ones who were found guilty of assisting James Burke in his attempt to get away with his crime,” Hart stated. “Instead of being leaders and standing up for justice, they did their best to manipulate the system and everyone who stood in their way.”

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police detective and an often outspoken critic of the department, said he feels vindicated.

“It is unfortunate for the honest and dedicated cops that these men thought they were above the law and could get away with anything,” Trotta said. “Thanks to the great work of the United States Attorney’s Office and the diligence of the jury, justice will be served.”

“It is unfortunate for the honest and dedicated cops that these men thought they were above the law and could get away with anything,”

– Rob Trotta

Spota and McPartland were indicted in Oct. 2017 on federal charges for covering up the crimes of former police chief James Burke. In 2012, Burke, a St. James resident, was charged and convicted of assaulting Christopher Loeb, of Smithtown, who broke into Burke’s department-issued SUV that was parked in front of the former police chief’s home and stole a duffel bag allegedly containing a gun belt, ammunition, sex toys and pornography. Burke, according to prosecutors, beat Loeb inside the 4th Precinct station house in Hauppauge. After being sentenced to 46 months in prison, Burke was released Nov. 2018. He completed his sentence under house arrest in April 2019.

Both Hart and Trotta have suggested that related investigations continue.

“We have been monitoring this case closely and remain in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District,” Hart stated. “We are also in the process of reviewing all of the testimony and evidence presented at trial, and upon further review will take appropriate action if warranted.”

Trotta is particularly concerned about rooting out further corruption, an issue central to his 2019 reelection campaign.

“Unfortunately, this trial exposed that corruption continues in Suffolk County and hopefully the United States Attorney’s Office will continue its investigation into Suffolk’s widespread corruption problem,” Trotta stated. “It’s embarrassing that the DA, chief of corruption, chief of police, chair of the conservative party have all been arrested and found guilty in the past few years.”

However, Hart holds a more positive outlook.

“We want to assure members of the public that the current leadership of this department is committed to integrity, honesty and professionalism,” she stated. “I am continuously impressed by the work and level of commitment by our police officers and residents of this county should feel proud of their police department.

 

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A proposal for Suffolk County sue former  police chief James Burke over the $1.5 million settlement it paid out to his victim was tabled by the county Legislature as legal advice on the best approach to seek reparations differed.

The county’s Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing Dec. 13 on Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) resolution to have Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini (D) initiate a lawsuit against Burke for the settlement the county paid out to Christopher Loeb in February 2018.

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor),the chairwoman of the committee, cited a memo from county attorney Dennis Brown that advised Trotta’s proposed lawsuit “would likely be unsuccessful but could expose us to [court] sanctions and attorney fees.”

“As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

— Dennis Brown

“There is no basis for it,” Brown said when questioned. “As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

In the federal civil lawsuit, Suffolk agreed to pay the $1.5 million settlement as Burke’s employer at the time for the civil rights offenses and the actions of six other police officers who participated in covering up the ex-chief’s actions. Burke retained his own private attorney and settled Loeb’s civil case against him for an undisclosed sum, according to Fleming.

Howard Miller, a Garden City-based attorney with the law firm Bond Shoeneck & King, presented a case for the county suing Burke for his wages and compensation paid by the county under the faithless servant doctrine. This doctrine, according to Miller, dates back to the 19th century allowing employers to seek compensation back from disloyal employees.

“Here, the facts are egregious as you had not only beating of the suspect but systematic coverup of that,” he said. “This doctrine is designed to create a deterrent to future acts like this, of corruption and misconduct.”

Attorney Howard Miller speaks before Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Miller stated doing so wouldn’t necessarily require further court litigation, given Burke had pled guilty, but could help Suffolk to claw back wages and any benefits paid to the former police chief from the date of the incident with Loeb, occurring in 2012, through Burke’s resignation in October 2015. While he admitted a lawsuit to see back the $1.5 million settlement was iffy, Miller said he has successfully represented clients at the state level who have been successful in similar lawsuits, including the William Floyd school district.

“What would be a successful lawsuit in my opinion, a plainly meritorious suit would be to go after the compensation [Burke] was paid while he was covering up his misconduct,” Miller said.

Fleming called for the county attorney to research the county’s legal possibility further and received a vote to table the discussion. Trotta has promised to submit an new resolution seeking to sue Burke for repayment of his salary.

Several Suffolk residents and former police department members asked the Legislature to further investigate what its legal options were for seeking repayment of the settlement, Burke’s salary or pension.

“You as the legislative body of our county have a fiduciary responsibility to Suffolk residents to go after the employees whose actions harm their employees, thus harming Suffolk County residents,” Pam Farino, of Smithtown, said. “Disgraced ex-chief James Burke did just that.”

Huntington resident James McGoldrick complimented Trotta for his intentions but asked the county’s officials to consider the cost of any legal action, considering the total funds Suffolk stood to regain might not be enough compared to the expenses of further litigation.

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. File photo

Suffolk County residents and lawmakers have known since early 2017 there would be a new District Attorney for the first time since 2001, but thanks to a federal indictment, the timeline for that to take place has moved up.

Thomas Spota (D), the sitting Suffolk County District Attorney, was charged by a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York Oct. 25 with four counts relating to his involvement in the obstruction of a federal civil rights investigation. Christopher McPartland, the Chief of Investigations and Chief of the Government Corruption Bureau of the DA’s office, was also indicted.

Spota released a statement Oct. 26 announcing his intentions to step down “at the earliest opportunity after the resolution of normal administrative matters relating to my retirement.” Emily Constant, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, will serve as the interim District Attorney until the winner of the 2017 campaign for the seat is sworn in next January.

The four charges were conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; and accessory after the fact to the deprivation of civil rights. The initial civil rights violation investigation was examining the actions of former Suffolk County Police Commissioner James Burke, who was charged in December 2015 after assaulting and thus violating the civil rights of a Smithtown man who had been arrested for breaking into Burke’s police-department issued vehicle. He was also charged with conspiracy to obstruct the investigation. Burke was sentenced to 46 months in prison almost exactly one year ago.

“Prosecutors swear oaths to pursue justice and enforce the law,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement following the indictment. “Instead of upholding their oaths, these defendants allegedly abused the power of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, attempted to cover up the assault of an in-custody defendant, and attempted to thwart a federal grand jury investigation. Abuses of power by law enforcement authorities cannot and will not be tolerated. There are serious consequences to such actions.”
Since allegations against Burke came to light and he pleaded guilty in February 2016, Spota’s resignation has long been discussed by members of both political parties.

“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement who were working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and conspiring to conceal his past…” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in May 2016 on the steps of Spota’s Hauppauge office, “Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so that we can begin the process of reforming this place governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you fail to do so, I will call on the governor to exercise his authority under the constitution to remove you from this office.”

Bellone renewed his call Oct. 25, before Spota’s announcement the next day.

“The person holding the awesome power to decide whether people go to jail or not cannot effectively serve under federal indictment for corruption,” Bellone said in a statement.

The indictment detailed some of the specifics of Spota’s and McPartland’s actions that led to the charges.

“Between December 2012 and the present, defendants Spota and McPartland, together with others including Burke and other members of the SCPD, had numerous meetings and telephone conversations discussing the assault of John Doe, John Doe’s allegations against Burke and the federal investigation,” it reads. “During those meetings and telephone conversations, defendants Spota and McPartland, and Burke and other members of the SCPD, agreed to conceal Burke’s role in the assault and to obstruct and attempt to obstruct the federal investigation in order to protect Burke.”

Bellone has been criticized by Republican legislators and others for his role in Burke’s promotion, and some have also called for his resignation during the last year.

Spota, 76, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 51, of Northport, were arraigned Oct. 25.

Former Suffolk police chief James Burke was arrested for using violent force with a suspect two years ago. File photo

A presidential visit to Suffolk County ended with the Suffolk County Police Department distancing itself from President Donald Trump’s (R) comments encouraging police officers to use more force with suspects at an event in Brentwood Friday, July 28.

“Please don’t be too nice,” Trump said to an audience of Suffolk County Police officers. “When you guys put somebody in their [police] car and you’re protecting their head, you know the way you put your hand over their head? Like don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. I said you can take the hand away okay?”

Officers broke into laughter and applause after Trump’s remarks, however less than two hours after he spoke police departments and organizations throughout the country came out to condemn Trump’s words.

“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” the Suffolk department said in a statement on Twitter. “The SCPD has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”

For Suffolk County, the subject of police brutality is especially important, as disgraced former police chief James Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for use of violent force with suspect Christopher Loeb, along with attempting to cover up his efforts and more.

During the trial Loeb, who was imprisoned for a parole violation said the incident changed his life, according to a report from The New York Times.

“I will never again feel comfortable in Suffolk County, the place I used to call home,” he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) vowed to “reform [Suffolk County] governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again,” as a result of the details of Burke’s crimes becoming public.

Trump traveled to Suffolk to talk about efforts to eradicate gang violence, particularly with MS-13, which has been associated with violent criminal offenses in the past year in the county, especially in Brentwood.

Other police departments also condemned Trump’s rhetoric.

“To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public,” a statement from the New York City Police Department said.

One  police officer from Gainesville, Florida directly called out both the president and the Suffolk cops who cheered on his remarks.

“I’m a cop,” Ben Tobias said on Twitter. “I do not agree with or condone POTUS remarks today on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.”

Despite the reaction from the crowd, the Suffolk County Police Department was quick to distance itself from Trump’s remarks.

U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin (R) traveled with Trump throughout his trip to Long Island and praised the president for his efforts.

“This administration has taken a hard stance against gang activity, and it is imperative that we come together as one community in rejection of this violence which has claimed too many innocent lives,” he said in a statement. “It is our obligation to make eradicating this criminal organization a top priority.”

Zeldin did not respond to requests for comment regarding Trump’s encouragement of police using less restraint with suspects.

Outside the event Trump supporters were grateful to have the president come and focus on their issues.

Smithtown resident Angela Martinez spoke in support for the president.

“This is the best, Trump coming here,” she said in an interview. “This is supposed to be good for the Island, this is supposed to be good for the community. The community really needs to work together.”

Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr.

Legislator Rob Trotta, left, calls on Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to resign. Photo by Alex Petroski

Corruption is a word used often relating to Suffolk County government recently, and at least three legislators have had enough.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) spoke at a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature, Evans K. Griffing Building in Riverhead on Tuesday in which he called for the resignation of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and District Attorney Tom Spota. Trotta also called for Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer (D), who is also the Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman to step down from one of the two jobs.

“At this point we are calling for the district attorney to step down and to let normalcy come back,” Trotta said, adding stories that continue to come out relating to former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice in February, are “disgusting.” Spota, Bellone and Schaffer were all critical in Burke’s career rise and promotion despite evidence reported by Newsday the men were warned of Burke’s troubled legal past.

Trotta’s calls for Spota’s resignation also stem from his backing of Chris McPartland, a corruption prosecutor in Spota’s office, who Newsday reported in January is under investigation by a federal grand jury for political corruption.

“People need to be held responsible for their actions and right now, in this county, they’re not being held responsible,” Trotta said. “I don’t mean in federal courts or being arrested, I mean morally and socially.”

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) joined Trotta at the press conference. Cilmi stopped short of calling for resignations when pressed, though he made a statement condemning Bellone and Spota’s alleged actions relating to Burke.

“People always have a sense that their political system is corrupt,” Cilmi said. “But day after day, week after week, year after year they’re seeing those fears play out right before their eyes in Suffolk County and it’s disgraceful. Whatever integrity Suffolk County has left is evaporating in a murky haze of finger pointing and deceit.”

Cilmi also echoed Trotta’s sentiments about Schaffer and suggested Schaffer’s two positions created a conflict of interest.

“The people of Suffolk County didn’t elect Schaffer,” Cilmi said. “The people of Babylon elected him town supervisor. Is he able to keep his government role separate from his political role?”

Schaffer could not be reached for comment but Bellone responded to Trotta’s comments in an email through his spokesperson, Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” she wrote. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office. I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment, which is why I nominated former federal prosecutor Tim Sini as police commissioner after vetting him for more than a year.”

Bob Clifford, a spokesperson for Spota, responded in a similar fashion.

“This predictably partisan press conference calling for the resignation of the duly elected district attorney is nothing but a political challenge to the effective leadership of Thomas Spota, who has spent the last 14 years putting criminals in jail,” he said.

McCaffrey and Trotta refuted any claims that the legislators’ motivation was driven by anything other than morality.

“I can tell you there’s Democrats in there that want to be standing here with us,” McCaffrey said, gesturing toward a legislative meeting going on at the same time. “They are ashamed of what’s going on in Suffolk County right now.”

Trotta said he invited Democratic legislators, though none attended.

“This is not about Republicans — this is not about Democrats,” Trotta said. “This is about corruption. Our job as representatives is to look into this. My constituents don’t have the ability to look into it like I can. Having been a former detective for 25 years I came to this job and I am sickened by what I see. Sickened.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo

A North Shore lawmaker and former Suffolk County detective has his sights set on the Suffolk County Police Department.

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) took to the Legislature this week to introduce a procedural motion that would establish a special committee to watch over the county’s law enforcement operations. If enacted, the committee would investigate and oversee different aspects of the county police department, the legislator said.

Trotta has been an outspoken critic of the police department, recently calling for the demotion of former police chief, James Burke, after his resignation amid being charged with civil rights violations and obstructing an investigation. In a statement, Trotta said there was enough evidence to support his proposed need for a committee overseeing operations of the department.

“As a result of the recent allegations of wrongdoings by top officials in the Suffolk County Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, I felt compelled to sponsor this measure to review all aspects of law enforcement operations in Suffolk County,” Trotta said.

The lawmaker said the special committee would be comprised of six members of the Legislature who would be tasked with reviewing the operations, procedures and practices of the entire police department as well as the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office. The committee would also investigate allegations of favoritism, the lack of adequate rules and procedures and the failure to comply with laws already on the books relating to internal affairs investigations in the police department, Trotta said.

The Suffolk County Police Department did not respond to requests seeking comment.

“As a retired Suffolk County detective who was assigned to the FBI’s Long Island task force for 10 years and now as a legislator, I feel it is incumbent upon me to try to rectify the situation created by a few bad apples in various departments,” Trotta said.

The county Legislature scheduled a review of the procedural motion at its public safety committee meeting today, Feb. 4, at 9:30 a.m. If put into effect, the committee would be empowered to administer oaths and affirmations, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers related to the review and investigation. It will have subpoena power with approval of the Legislature and will hold meetings and hearings as needed. In addition, the committee is authorized to hire the necessary staff to conduct its investigation, subject to appropriations by the Legislature, according to Trotta’s statement.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, second from right, calls for a federal monitor to oversee the county police department in the wake of recent scandals. Photo from Suffolk County Republicans

North Shore lawmakers are calling on the federal government to keep a closer watch on the county police department.

At a press conference last week, Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) stood beside Republican minority leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) at the William Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to call for heightened oversight of the Suffolk County Police Department via a federal monitor. Their pleas came in light of a recent investigation and indictment of former county Police Chief James Burke, who was accused of beating a handcuffed suspect and attempting to cover up the crime.

During the press conference, numerous members of the Republican Caucus made it clear that both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Tim Sini needed to speak up about what they know — if anything — regarding the alleged malfeasance of the department, given that their positions were so intimately tied to its internal mechanisms.

Trotta said that as more facts related to Burke roll out, it has become more apparent that the problem needs to be addressed by a federal monitor. He and his colleagues argued that federal involvement would allot the best resources available to the investigation and also instill an element of objectivity.

“I want the monitor to come in to make sure that everything in the internal affairs department is running correctly,” Trotta said at the press conference. “I want the monitor to come in and say that the person appointed to be police commissioner is qualified.”

Bellone ensured that a monitor will be established as soon as possible.

Bellone tapped Tim Sini to become Suffolk County police commissioner after serving as Bellone’s chief criminal justice advisor since August 2014.

Before his tenure as Suffolk’s assistant deputy county executive for public safety, Sini served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2010 to 2014, specializing in violent crimes, gang prosecutions and large-scale narcotics cases.

“When looking for a police commissioner, I am seeking someone with character, experience and vision, and Tim Sini has all three,” Bellone said. “Tim is a man of real integrity with a strong sense of justice. Tim Sini has a unique blend of law enforcement experience as a federal prosecutor combined with a keen understanding of Suffolk County’s law enforcement community by serving as my top law enforcement advisor.”

But McCaffrey argued at the press conference that there was no time for “on-the-job training” when one is elevated to the level of commissioner of the county police department. McCaffrey argued that Sini is inexperienced, making it that much more essential that federal investigators seek out accountability.

“This is not a political issue, it is one of public safety and the integrity of our government,” McCaffrey said. “The State of New York, and now Suffolk County, is just roiling with corruption and mismanagement. The people of Suffolk County deserve much better than this, and anything less than full federal involvement will not be acceptable.”

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Justin Julich competes for Port Jefferson in the steeplechase in the St. Anthony’s Invitational. Photo from the athlete

The Royals have always risen to the occasion, and the boys’ track and field team hopes their efforts this year on the state stage will be no exception.

Despite missing the entire spring season with an Achilles tendon injury, Port Jefferson standout James Burke — and two of his fellow Royals — placed in the Section XI individual championships and state qualifier on their home track last Friday and Saturday, to advance to the state championship this weekend at the University at Albany.

“It was devastating to lose James this spring season,” Port Jefferson head coach Rod Cawley said. “He’s the captain of the team and one of the best athletes in the state. But it’s quite an accomplishment to have three athletes competing this weekend.”

Although this season’s squad did not win any of the championships the Royals usually nab, like the league, division and county titles, the boys still finished the dual-meet season with a 5-1 record — dropping only their final matchup against Wyandanch, 79-59 — despite missing Burke, as well as junior Billy Witrock for a portion of the schedule.

Although he did not compete during the regular season, Burke placed second in the 1,600-meter, his signature event, at the qualifying meet with a time of 4 minutes, 18.39 seconds — only five-hundredths of a second behind Ward Melville’s John Ripa.

The Royal has finished that event as fast as 4:08.48, during the New Balance Nationals Indoor at the Armory in Manhattan earlier this year. The time made him the second-fastest miler in the country and earned him a silver medal.

“I give him credit for coming back and coming in second,” Cawley said about the qualifier. “The plan was to go out and try to take it easy to rest his tendon, but being the competitor that he is, there’s no taking it easy. He went from the back of the race all the way to the front in second place there, and then he moved to first for a little while, but he also got stepped on during the race — since [his Achilles] was injured anyway, that didn’t help.”

Burke spent a lot of time trying to heal following his injury, and slowly worked himself up to being able to run again.

“He goes around the neighborhood to people who have pools, and asks if he could swim,” Cawley said, laughing. “He’s been to four or five different pools in Port Jeff. … He likes to run in the water in the deep end to simulate running — not touching the bottom — and then he’ll swim laps to get some cardiovascular aspects of it.”

Port Jefferson's Alden Mohacsi pole vaults in a previous meet. Photo from the athlete
Port Jefferson’s Alden Mohacsi pole vaults in a previous meet. Photo from the athlete

Also heading to states is senior pole-vaulter Alden Mohacsi, whose fourth-place finish at the qualifier was a new personal record, making the state bid that much sweeter.

“I’m definitely looking forward to states,” said Mohacsi, who has been on the team since he was a freshman. “I’m practicing every day and there’s been a lot of personal development. I’m going to do the best that I can this week to improve my form and I’m hoping to hit 13 feet this Friday.”

Junior Justin Julich had several successes of his own, competing in the 3,200 and 3,000 steeplechase.

On Friday, Julich hit a new personal record of his own in the two-mile run with a 9:48 — nine seconds better than his standard 9:57 — to finish eighth. Just hours after competing in the 3,200 the evening before, Julich ran a 10:16 in the steeplechase on Saturday to place seventh and qualify for states.

“It’s awesome to do really good at that high of a level,” Julich said. “Competing against the best guys in the county, it always helps to do your best in those kinds of situations.”

Julich is also looking to reach a new personal best in that event this Saturday, and his head coach said the runner has grown a lot over the years, aiding in his success.

“He’s come a long way,” Cawley said. “He was a little guy back in freshman year and now he’s going to be a team leader next year. He was exhausted Saturday morning. It’s a very difficult [double event] to do in 16 hours, but he didn’t complain; he went out there and did it. He knows he has to step up.”

Julich, Mohacsi, Parker Schoch and Alex Rebic also competed in the 4×800 relay in the state qualifier, finishing 12th in 8:50.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Cawley and his athletes are confident that they can be successful on the big stage.

“I think we have a pretty good chance to do very well,” the head coach said. “James is James; I know he will do well just because of his past. Alden is a tough competitor, and I think Justin has an opportunity to do well, too.”

Mohacsi said the program’s winning tradition has facilitated the athletes’ improvements.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to be a part of this team and this program,” he said. “It’s built me up physically and mentally, and I’m really grateful for the super-talented and supportive teammates and coaches I’ve had. It’s inspired me to keep pushing myself beyond the best of my abilities; to work hard and give it 110 percent.”

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Senior runner finishes final indoor track and field season with a multitude of achievements

Head coach Rod Cawley, runner James Burke, athletic director Debra Ferry and Burke's mother Maureen pose for a photo. Photo by Jim Burke
James Burke stands atop the podium after earning a gold medal in the mile at the state championship. Photo by Jim Burke
James Burke stands atop the podium after earning a gold medal in the mile at the state championship. Photo by Jim Burke

Almost no one can catch him.

This past weekend, Port Jefferson high school senior James Burke earned a silver medal at the New Balance Nationals Indoor at the Armory in Manhattan, making him the second fastest miler in the country at 4 minutes, 8.48 seconds.

It’s just one highlight of his final and most memorable indoor season.

“I’ve just been more about trying to win races and disregarding time, not really watching the clock, because my mentality with that was every record you get will eventually be broken, but every title you get can never get taken away from you,” Burke said.

Although he wasn’t watching the clock, Burke ran a new national No. 1 time in the 1,000-meter at the Molloy Stanner Games in January, finishing in 2:26.35.

Burke said the 1,000 is, of course, not his forte, but he was excited to be able to show his range.

“It was definitely a big confidence booster for me to know that there’s a variety of events that I can excel in; to know that I’m not limited to one event,” he said.

Besides topping the country, the mark also broke the Long Island record of 2:27.39, set by Chaminade’s Sean Kelly last season.

Following that race, Burke competed in the New Balance High School Boys’ Mile at the New York Road Runners’ Millrose Games in February, and finished first with a time of 4:11.25. He also nabbed his first New York State gold medal for the mile at the state championship meet earlier this month.

Head coach Rod Cawley, runner James Burke, athletic director Debra Ferry and Burke's mother Maureen pose for a photo. Photo by Jim Burke
Head coach Rod Cawley, runner James Burke, athletic director Debra Ferry and Burke’s mother Maureen pose for a photo. Photo by Jim Burke

“Anything he had, he put it out there this year,” Port Jefferson head coach Rod Cawley said. “He performed to the best of his ability throughout the entire season, and it showed in the result.”

The medal was special to Burke not only because it was his first time earning gold in a state competition but also because of the memories that haunted him from the same meet the year prior.

Last winter, Burke made his move with about 600 meters to go in the race and was passed with nearly 20 meters left, resulting in a second-place finish.

“That image was in my head pretty much all year, because I didn’t get a chance in the spring,” Burke said, explaining that he had mononucleosis last spring and could not compete at states. “I was waiting the whole year for that day. Remembering what happened last year, every day, for the whole year, it was definitely a good feeling to place first.”

Then came the national championship, which went a little differently for the Royal compared to his previous races, but his coach was still proud of his athlete.

“He ran beautifully, he did what he had to do, he went out faster than he ever went out before,” Cawley said of his six-year varsity runner. “James persevered and he never gave up. He always tried to catch [Michigan’s Grant Fisher]. It was a phenomenal performance — very gutsy, very smart. He did a great job.”

The difference this time around was the pace of the first 800 meters. During the state meet, the first half of the race was completed in 2:17, but at nationals he finished that distance in 2:01.

The pressure didn’t bother Burke. The mile was just run differently because the stakes were high and the competition was fiercer. But as a result of the speed, Burke believes he got in his own head.

James Burke runs in a previous outdoor competition. File photo
James Burke runs in a previous outdoor competition. File photo

“That was the fastest I’ve ever gone through 800 meters, by 10 seconds, in the mile, so it was interesting because as I was going through it at that pace, I saw the clock and thought I should be really tired but I wasn’t,” he said. “Going through at a pace I’m just not used to going got in my head a little bit, so I told myself I was more tired than I really was.”

But Burke got through the mental minefield to secure his second-place finish.

As a result of the new feat, Burke believes that he can continue to shave time off his mile to reach his goal of four minutes.

“So much of racing is staying in the right mental place throughout the race,” he said, which is also why each time he sets foot on the track, he remains confident and determined that he will win.

Cawley said this quality is critical to his senior’s success.

“To go in to a race with that attitude gives you an advantage, because when you doubt you’re going to beat somebody, you’re not going to beat them,” he said. “James is a reality check, because with him around, no matter what you do, you just don’t look as good. He’ll always exceed your expectations and he will always perform to the best of his ability. There’s no doubt in his mind, when he stands on the track, that he’s going to beat everybody else.”