Feature Articles

March 2002

Stunning Court Decision In Police Brutality Case

By James Ridgway de Szigethy

New York 2-28-02

     In a dramatic ruling today, a Federal Appeals Court threw out convictions against three New York City cops convicted in one of the most horrific incidents of police brutality in United States history, the August 1997 assault against Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, during which Officer Justin Volpe sodomized and nearly killed Louima by ramming a broken-off mop handle into the rectum of the handcuffed prisoner. Officer Charles Schwarz was convicted in the original trial of violating Louima�s civil rights by holding Louima down in the bathroom of Brooklyn�s 70th Precinct while Volpe sodomized him. Volpe pleaded guilty to this crime at mid-trial. Schwarz was later convicted in a separate trial along with Officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder of conspiring to cover-up the incidents of the night of August 9, 1997, during which Volpe received an injury to the brain during a riot outside a Brooklyn nightclub that catered to the Haitian immigrant community. The convictions of the three cops in the conspiracy trial, and that of Schwarz in the civil rights trial, have now been voided.

     The three-Judge panel of the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there was a conflict of interest regarding Schwarz� defense in the first trial given that Schwarz was represented by a police Union attorney who failed to call Volpe as a Witness once he pleaded guilty and implicated another cop, Thomas Wiese, as his accomplice during the bathroom assault. Wiese, the partner of Schwarz, was also a police Union delegate. While Volpe�s plea was not made in the presence of the jury in that trial, the Appeals Court also found that jurors became informed of Volpe�s admission of guilt and that it tainted their deliberations regarding Officer Schwarz.

     In regards to the decision by the Court to throw out the convictions in the conspiracy trial, the Judges claimed there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict against the three cops. Wiese and Bruder have remained free since their convictions while appealing their case. Schwarz has been in solitary confinement in a variety of Federal prisons since his convictions. Justin Volpe is serving out his 30-year sentence in the general population of a Federal prison in the Midwest. The former cop, whose fianc�e is African-American, has suffered no repercussions from Black or Hispanic inmates and has in fact befriended several. Members of the African-American community in New York, including the Reverend Betty Neal, Director of Ministers of Harlem, an inter-faith non-profit organization, have actively participated in a campaign to have young Volpe�s sentence reduced. Upon hearing of the Appeals Court�s decision, Volpe�s attorney Marvyn Kornberg expressed his opinion that these developments could eventually serve that purpose.

     Reaction to the Court decision was swift and blunt. Mister Al Sharpton, Jr., who was convicted in a civil suit for his role in falsely accusing a member of law enforcement of rape in the Tawana Brawley hoax, indicated that he and his associates would resort to various tactics, including civil disobedience, in response to the Court�s decision. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg called for restraint and reservation of judgement in response to the ruling. Bloomberg was flanked by a member of his Administration, Anthony Carter, the former U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York whose office successfully prosecuted the Louima case trials. The timing of the Court decision was seen by some as unfortunate given that public support of cops has risen considerably in the wake of the terrorist attack on New York on 9-11, during which over 40 cops died in the line of duty.

     This reporter was one of a select few who were able to cover the original Louima case trial from inside the Courtroom of Judge Eugene Nickerson, the gentlemanly Judge renown for presiding over some of the most significant Mafia trials of this generation. This reporter�s feature on the Abner Louima case, �17 DAYS IN AUGUST: A TALE OF COPS, STEROIDS, AND THE MOB!� can be found in the archives at this address:

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