are a vindictive and opportunistic lot. Last year Justin
Volpe was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for violating
Louimas civil rights. Last week three police officers
were convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice. The events
that took place in the precinct house that night were terrible.
But prosecutors should not be allowed to do what they like
without anyone asking any questions.
Aug. 9, 1997, police officers from the 70th Precinct were
dispatched to disperse a large crowd brawling outside a
club in Brooklyn. There was a fight and one of the police
officers, Volpe, was knocked to the ground. Volpe believed
the assailant was Louima. Police officers Charles Schwarz
and Thomas Wiese arrested Louima. According to Louima, at
one point on the way to the precinct, the officers got out
of the car and proceeded to beat him severely. At the police
station a handcuffed Louima was dragged to the bathroom
and violently sodomized with a stick by Volpe. The Haitian
was subsequently taken to a hospital with serious injuries
to his bladder and rectum.
was an election year and New York went crazy. Within days
state prosecutors brought charges against Volpe, Schwarz,
Thomas Bruder (Volpes partner) and Wiese. Then federal
prosecutors stepped in and took over the case. This was
rather outrageous. In the past, the federal government has
pushed aside state authorities by claiming that locals could
not be trusted to prosecute white-on-black crimes. But no
one seriously believed that in New York in 1997 state courts
were likely to go easy on whites. There was only one reason
why the federal government stepped in: to make sure punishment
would be extra severe. That way the Rev. Al Sharpton would
be pacified, there would be no riots and no one would accuse
Rudy Giuliani of racism or of being soft on cops. Kings
County D.A. Charles Hynes stepped aside and promised that
"the appropriate punishment for...these vicious acts...will
be available in the federal system."
state of New York had charged the police officers with aggravated
sexual abuse, which carries a maximum of 25 years imprisonment.
By any reckoning, 25 years for assault that led neither
to death nor to serious permanent injury can hardly be described
as lenient; still, it wasnt life without parole. Violation
of civil rights, however, does carry a life sentence.
the trial last May, Volpe pleaded guilty and threw himself
on the mercy of the court. Judge Eugene Nickerson sentenced
Volpe to 30 years in prison. The prosecutor had asked for
life without parole, but 30 years is still a ludicrous sentenceits
what people get for second-degree murder. What Volpe did
was dreadful and he should go to prison. But 30 years! Sodomize
someone with a stickseven years at most. Volpe was
a cop, so there are aggravating circumstances. Double the
sentence, then15 years maximum.
prosecutors were high-fiving each other over the fall of
Volpe, the rest of their case was looking rather shaky.
First, Louima had hired attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Barry
Scheck. Since the government had already embraced the cause
of Louima as its own, it was not legal protection Louima
sought. He needed them to extract a cool packet from the
city. For that he would need to embellish his story, establish
that he was victimized by the Police Dept. as a whole, not
just by one cop. Louimas story changed. There was
his claimsubsequently withdrawnthat somebody
at the station had cried, "Its Giuliani time!"
Initially, he had said that Volpe alone attacked him in
the bathroom. At the trial, Louima stated that another officer
held him down while Volpe sodomized him. He could not identify
who allegedly held him down in the bathroom. He thought
it might have been the driver of the patrol car that took
him to the precinct. That driver was Charles Schwarz. But
Louima couldnt identify Schwarz as the driver. In
fact, he admitted that Schwarz and Officer Wiese, the passenger,
looked rather similar. Luckily, two officers, Eric Turetzky
and Mark Schofield, came forward to say that they saw Schwarz
take Louima toward the bathroom area. Neither of them saw
him going into the bathroom with Louima.