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NYC Cops Go on Trial in Louima Case

May 4, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Five white police officers went on trial on civil rights charges Tuesday in the case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant investigators say was sexually brutalized in a stationhouse bathroom.

The 1997 case, along with this year’s police shooting of an unarmed African immigrant, has strained relations between the Police Department and the black community.

In opening statements, federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson described in graphic detail how the defendants supposedly battered a handcuffed Louima inside a patrol car and then sodomized him in a bloody assault in a precinct bathroom in Brooklyn.

A defense attorney countered that Louima had ``150 million reasons″ to lie about the incident _ a $150 million lawsuit against the city. Louima is represented by O.J. Simpson lawyers Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Barry Scheck in the lawsuit.

Officer Justin Volpe, 27, and three other officers are charged with assaulting Louima outside the precinct. And Volpe and Officer Charles Schwarz are charged in the attack inside the precinct bathroom, where Volpe allegedly stuck a broomstick into Louima’s rectum and then jammed it into his mouth. A fifth officer is charged with covering up the attack.

Louima was hospitalized with severe internal injuries that included a ruptured bladder and colon, prompting widespread demonstrations against police brutality in the city. He has recovered and is expected to be the government’s star witness.

``Inside that bathroom, Abner Louima suffered more than a beating,″ Thompson told the jury of eight whites, three Hispanics and one black. ``Ladies and gentlemen, Abner Louima was tortured inside that bathroom.″

According to Thompson, Volpe at one point warned Louima: ``If you make any noise, we kill you.″

The prosecutor said that Louima was picked up in a case of mistaken identity: Police wanted Louima’s cousin, who had actually struck Volpe during a melee outside a Brooklyn nightclub.

``When someone hurts Justin Volpe, he believes in hurting back,″ Thompson said. ``He was furious, and he wanted revenge.″

Marvyn Kornberg, Volpe’s lawyer, said the lawsuit gave Louima $150 million in incentives to ``cut the truth, to modify the truth, to in fact lie.″ He suggested another explanation for Louima’s internal injuries.

Those injuries were ``not consistent with a nonconsensual insertion of an object into his rectum,″ Kornberg said. Also, he said, there was evidence of another man’s DNA mixed in with some of Louima’s feces found in the bathroom.

Thompson acknowledged to the jury that Louima lied initially when he claimed that the assaulting officers had taunted him by saying, ``It’s Giuliani time.″ Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has made his reputation as a law-and-order politician who made the city’s streets safer.

``That lie,″ Kornberg responded, ``was told to create divisiveness in the city of New York.″

Volpe, Schwarz, 33, Thomas Bruder, 33, and Thomas Wiese, 35, are charged with violating Louima’s civil rights by beating him after his arrest outside the nightclub. Prosecutors also allege that Schwarz held Louima down while Volpe rammed the stick into Louima’s rectum and mouth.

The officers’ supervisor, Sgt. Michael Bellomo, 37, is charged with helping cover up the attack. If convicted, Bellomo, Bruder and Wiese face up to 10 years in prison; Volpe and Schwarz could get life in prison without parole.

The latter two face longer sentences because of the sexual nature of the bathroom attack.

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