FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Dynamic Plaques - FVT Plaques
FVT Plaques is introducing new dynamic plaques to recognize police and sheriff's...

Legally Defensible Training Records

Ask The Expert

Ari Vidali

CEO and Founder of Envisage Technologies

Top News

Court Overturns 3 Convictions in Louima Police Brutality Case

February 28, 2002  | 

A federal appeals court has thrown out the convictions of three of the four police officers sent to prison in the torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Charles Schwarz's lawyer did not defend him adequately and that the jury was tainted by news reports when it convicted him of violating Louima's civil rights by holding him down during the 1997 assault in a police station bathroom.

The court also said there was insufficient evidence to sustain the obstruction-of-justice convictions of Schwarz, 36, and officers Thomas Wiese, 38, and Thomas Bruder, 35. Wiese and Bruder had been accused of lying to cover up Schwarz's role.

The ruling did not affect the guilty plea of the main attacker, Justin Volpe, 37, who admitted he sodomized the handcuffed Louima with a broken broomstick in a fit of rage. Volpe is serving 30 years.

Civil rights leaders and Louima supporters expressed outrage over the ruling, which reopens an explosive case that inflamed racial tensions and touched off street protests.

The appeals court entered a judgment of acquittal for all three officers on the obstruction charges, effectively bringing an end to the case against Wiese and Bruder. The two men had been given five-year prison sentences but have been free on bail during their appeal.

However, the court ordered a new trial on the civil rights charges for Schwartz, who is serving 15 years behind bars in Oklahoma.

U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad said that he was disappointed by the ruling but that his office is prepared to retry Schwarz.

Louima had been arrested in a melee outside a Brooklyn nightclub. According to testimony, Volpe was enraged because he believed Louima had punched him from behind. Louima was brutalized in the bathroom and spent two months in the hospital with a ruptured bladder and colon.

The attack touched off a federal investigation that cracked the vaunted "blue wall of silence" that was said to protect rogue officers in the Police Department. In addition to the four men sent to prison, two other officers were placed on probation for misleading investigators.

Schwarz's wife, Andra, said the family is looking forward to having him home. "It's like a dream," she said. He could be freed on bail as early as next week, his lawyer said.

"It's a sweet day when you can show the government was wrong and it was wrong from the beginning," said Stuart London, Bruder's lawyer.

Joseph Tacopina, Wiese's attorney, said his client wants to "resume his normal life and possibly return to the force."

Schwarz has denied ever being in the bathroom. Even after his conviction, he insisted that Louima and the government's other star witness, a fellow officer, confused him with Wiese. Volpe himself indicated Schwarz was not there.

In its ruling, the appeals court suggested that Schwarz's attorney at the time, police union lawyer Stephen Worth, did not call Volpe as a witness because he wanted to avoid implicating Wiese, a union delegate.

The court said there was a "distinct possibility" that "Worth would sacrifice Schwarz's interests" for those of the police union.

The appeals court also said that the jury was tainted because it found out about Volpe's plea from a juror who learned of it through news reports.

Sanford Rubenstein, a lawyer for Louima, said his client would "look to the federal government to retry the case and we will be supportive of their efforts as we have in the past."

Louima sued the city and the police union and settled in July for $8.7 million — the largest payout in a police brutality case in New York.

Be the first to comment on this story

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent News

Prisoner Serving Time for Attempted Murder of Officers Escapes in Maryland
Maryland police agencies are looking for escaped prisoner David M. Watson. Watson, serving...
Video: Arrested Ohio Woman Attacks Officer with OC Spray from Back of Patrol Vehicle
Video recorded in the back of a Columbus, OH, police cruiser shows a woman and a police...
On Eve of Rodney King Riots Anniversary LAPD Chief Says Force Will Never “Fail” City Again
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has written an editorial for the Los Angeles Times...
Ohio Man Called 911 Asking for a Police Dog to Help Him Find Stolen Heroin
A Bath Township, OH, man was arrested earlier this year after he called 911 requesting a...
TX Authorities Searching for Missing Officer Who is Reportedly Experiencing Emotional Distress
Police did not release his name, but said that his vehicle was found Tuesday morning at...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Zip Code:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine