Court Overturns 3
- - - - - - - - - - -
NEW YORK, February 28, 2002 | The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder. The ruling does not affect the conviction of the chief attacker, Justin Volpe, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was tortured in the bathroom of a police station in 1997 after he was arrested in a fight outside a Brooklyn nightclub. He suffered severe internal injuries.
Louima's case drew widespread attention to the issue of racial profiling and led to a major shakeup of the New York City Police Department. Charges against Louima were later dropped.
The court said that convictions against Schwarz, Wiese and Bruder at a second trial for conspiracy to obstruct justice must be thrown out because there was not enough evidence for the police to have been found guilty.
The appeals court also said Schwarz was denied effective assistance of counsel and jurors were exposed to prejudicial information.
It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would seek new trials in those cases.
Schwarz was sentenced in June to 151/2 years; Wiese and Bruder received five-year sentences for the conspiracy conviction but have been free on bond pending appeal.
Schwarz and Volpe were tried for conspiracy to deprive Louima of his civil rights by sexually assaulting him while Schwarz, Bruder and Wiese faced conspiracy to obstruct justice charges in a separate trial.
Schwarz had maintained his innocence throughout, and said he was nowhere near the bathroom. Volpe had backed him up.
"I'm thrilled," said Schwarz's lawyer, Ron Fischetti. "There's no other reaction. This has gone on for two years and eight months. This man is absolutely innocent."
Fischetti said he will seek bail for Schwarz, who is being held in Oklahoma City, "as soon as we possibly can."
"I am numb, I am shocked," said Eileen Bruno, Schwarz's sister. "Justice has finally prevailed, and we want those people held responsible who framed my brother."
Approached on the driveway of his home in Miami, Louima said little about the ruling.
"Actually, I'm talking with my attorney, so I don't have any comment at this time," he said.
"He wants to live his life, like any of us would want to live their lives, without any further need to comment," Rubenstein said.
But Louima will cooperate with federal authorities in any retrials, the lawyer added.
Wiese's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, described his reaction as "utter joy, perhaps the happiest moment in my professional life. Wiese became part of my family.
"The second trial should have been a no-contest, but we were prevented from getting a fair trial. The second circuit, in their infinite wisdom, appreciated that justice was perverted in that second trial."
Tacopina described his client as "ecstatic."
Volpe's attorney, Marvin Kornberg, said the decision does not alter his client's conviction, but could lead to a reduced sentence for him.
"It now means that in his second trial against Schwarz, he will be able to take the stand ... and tell the story as to who was in the bathroom with him," Kornberg said.
Volpe had always said it was not Schwarz who was with him, Kornberg said. Though he told that to the U.S. attorney, the information never was presented to the jury. "The failure to bring that forth to the jury at that time may have been the cause of the jury finding Schwarz guilty," he said.
Kornberg predicted the new trial would begin within six months, at which his client "will be able to ask the judge for a downward departure with respect to the amount of time he has to stay in jail."
Told of Kornberg's reaction, Louima lawyer Rubenstein said, "Let's not lose sight of what happened here. Abner was a victim of an assault by Justin Volpe that was perhaps one of the worst examples of police brutality in the history of this country."
Link to Background Article
- - - - - - - - - - -
NEW YORK, July 12 | "I don't really see myself as rich man, I see myself as someone lucky to be alive," said Louima, a soft-spoken man in a charcoal pinstriped suit. "After what happened to me, I'm not satisfied until I see justice."
Louima's case came to symbolize the downside of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's heralded war on crime. Giuliani's battle plan relied on police conducting tens of thousands of street stops, pat-downs and arrests, and zero tolerance for unruly behavior. And homicides dropped by 60 percent in the past eight years.
But Louima's case was the cautionary tale. A year after his assault, Louima sued for $155 million, accusing officers in Brooklyn's 70th Precinct of conspiring to fashion "a blue wall of silence and lies to obstruct justice." The police and union officials condoned an "environment in which the most violent police officers believe they would be insulated," his lawsuit charged.
"We wanted to see some good faith," said Johnnie Cochran, Louima's lawyer. "The amount of money was resolved more than six months ago."
Louima's suit led, directly or otherwise, to some police department reforms, including eliminating the so-called 48-hour rule for captains, lieutenants, sergeants and detectives, a contract right that gives the accused officers two days before they have to answer questions. But Cochran could not point to other specific steps taken by the police department in response to the lawsuit.
A security guard, Louima was arrested in a brawl outside a nightclub on Aug. 9, 1997. Officers handcuffed and hauled him to the police station. Once there, Officer Justin Volpe claimed that Louima had punched him.
Volpe and several white officers pulled Louima into a precinct bathroom. Volpe took a broken broomstick and sodomized Louima, and then plunged the stick into the victim's mouth, breaking two teeth. Volpe threatened to kill Louima if he complained about his treatment.
Louima suffered a punctured bladder and intestines, and was forced to wait more than 90 minutes before officers would take him to a hospital. Charges against Louima were later dropped, and Louima testified about his ordeal in three criminal trials.
Volpe pleaded guilty and is serving 30 years. Juries convicted four other officers in the cover-up of the crime.
Louima's was the first of several cases -- including the shooting of Amadou Diallou -- to expose an unsavory side to the police department's war on crime, particularly in black and Latino neighborhoods. Civil judgments against police officers have surged in recent years. The city paid $36.3 million last year to settle lawsuits filed by civilians against police officers, more than double the $14 million in 1990.
The police department's reputation for brutality, by some measures, is overstated. New York City's police officers, for instance, are far less likely to shoot and kill civilians than police officers in Prince George's County or the District of Columbia. From 1990 through 2000, Prince Georges's had 3.37 shootings per 1,000 officers; District police had 2.15 shootings per 1,000.
In New York City, there are 0.71 fatal police shootings per 1,000 officers.
After Louima's beating, Giuliani decried the "blue wall of silence," denounced the perpetrators and urged officers to testify honestly about what transpired in the precinct house.
In the days following the incident, Volpe was reported to have warned Louima that it was "Giuliani time," code for a white backlash against blacks. But Volpe has denied saying that, and many now believe he never uttered the words.
Louima took pains to stress that the settlement was not so much about money as about the future.
"I have vowed," he said, "to do everything I can to ensure that the torture and cover-up I suffered will not be inflicted on my children or anyone else's children."