A Recent History of NYPD Brutality

Abner Louima

Date: August 1997

At the time of the attack, 30-year-old Abner Louima had been living in Brooklyn for six years with his wife and child. He was working as a security guard, though he had studied electrical engineering in his native Haiti. He'd never been arrested, and in an series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles written by Mike McAlary, said he "liked cops" until the events of August 9, 1997. On an early August evening, Louima was at Flatbush nightclub Club Rendez-Vous, when a fight broke out between two women as the club was clearing out. Louima and several other men rushed to intervene. Officers from the NYPD's 70th Precinct responded to the call. Soon, a fight erupted between police and club patrons; Officer Justin Volpe was "sucker punched" and mistakenly believed that Louima was responsible, and so he arrested him for obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. During the ride to the police station, officers beat Louima with fists, nightsticks, and hand-held radios. Upon arriving at the police station, Louima was forcibly strip-searched before being shoved into a cell.

The beating continued later, becoming even more inhumane when Volpe took Louima to the bathroom, kicked and squeezed his testicles, and then violently sodomized him with a plunger while Louima's hands were handcuffed behind his back. Louima also suffered broken teeth after being jabbed in the mouth with the handle of the plunger, while being told, "That's your shit, nigger." A witness testified that Volpe strolled through the precinct, chest out, bragging with the blood-and-excrement-stained plunger in hand that he "took a man down tonight." The next day, Louima was taken to the emergency room of the Coney Island Hospital, where officers said his injuries were the result of abnormal homosexual activities. However, ER nurse Magalie Laurent doubted these claims based on the severity of Louima's injuries and called his family and the NYPD's Internal Affairs bureau. Louima was left with severe damage to his bladder and colon, and was hospitalized for two months following the attack.

Louima's assault at the hands of the NYPD sparked local and national anger. Volpe pleaded not guilty to making false statements to police, obstruction of justice, and violation of Louima's civil rights. However, halfway through the trial, he changed his plea to guilty and admitted that he had sodomized Louima and threatened his life.

In December 1999, he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole, ordered to pay nearly $280,000 in restitution and a $525 fine. Charles Schwarz was convicted in June 2000 for assisting Volpe in the bathroom assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Three other officers—Thomas Bruder, Michael Bellomo, and Thomas Wiese—were indicted for trying to cover up the assault. In March 2000, they were convicted along with Schwarz for conspiring to obstruct a federal investigation, but the conviction was reversed in February 2002 by a federal appeals court due to lack of sufficient evidence. Bellomo was found not guilty of trying to cover up the assault of Louima, as well as Volpe's beating of another Haitian immigrant the same evening.

Louima civil suit against the city resulted in an $8.7 million settlement-the largest police brutality settlement in the history of New York City. After legal fees were deducted, Louima walked away wiht $5.8 million. Louima has continued to speak out against police brutality, notably the murder of Sean Bell, and was honored in New York City by the National Action Network on the 10th anniversary of his attack.

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