Edition: U.S. / Global

N.Y. / Region



The Abner Louima Case, 10 Years Later

LouimaAbner Louima, who was tortured in a Brooklyn police station in 1997, appearing at a news conference in 2001 after he received $8.7 million in settlements with the city and the police union. (Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Ten years ago today, a 30-year-old Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima was arrested and sodomized with a broomstick inside a restroom in the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn. The case became a national symbol of police brutality and fed perceptions that New York City police officers were harassing or abusing young black men as part a citywide crackdown on crime.

The case also marked the beginning of the unraveling of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s relationship with the black community in New York. That relationship would deteriorate even further, after the police shot two unarmed black men, Amadou Diallo in February 1999 and Patrick Dorismond in 2000.

One officer, Justin A. Volpe, admitted in court in May 1999 that he had rammed a broken broomstick into Mr. Louima’s rectum and then thrust it in his face. He said he had mistakenly believed that Mr. Louima had punched him in the head during a street brawl outside a nightclub in Flatbush, but he acknowledged that he had also intended to humiliate the handcuffed immigrant. He left the force and was later sentenced to 30 years in prison. The commanders of the 70th Precinct were replaced within days of the assault. As the legal case wore on, Charles Schwarz, a former police officer, was sentenced in federal court in 2002 to five years in prison for perjury stemming from the torture case. A jury found that Mr. Schwarz had lied when he testified that he had not taken Mr. Louima to the station house bathroom where the assault took place.

Mr. Louima, who was born in Thomassin, Haiti, in 1966, and immigrated to New York in 1991, suffered a ruptured bladder and colon and spent two months in the hospital. The charges against him were dropped. Mr. Louima’s case animated anxieties about the Giuliani administration. (Mr. Louima at one point claimed that police officers shouted ”It’s Giuliani time!” as they tortured him; he later retracted that account.)

Mr. Louima won $8.7 million in settlements with the city and the police union — the largest police brutality settlement in the city’s history. Afterward, he moved to Florida.

In addition to Mr. Volpe and Mr. Schwarz, two other officers, Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese, were implicated in the case. They were convicted of obstruction of justice, but the convictions were overturned in 2002. They were unsuccessful in their attempt to be reinstated in the Police Department.

As this anniversary approached, Mr. Louima, 40, has been back in the news recently, speaking out against police brutality. “I feel we have made some progress in reducing police brutality over the past 10 years, but I also believe there is still a lot to be done,” he wrote in a guest column published in The Daily News on Sunday. “Things may have improved a bit, but not enough. To name just one example, look at Sean Bell, who last year was shot and killed by police while leaving a nightclub in Queens.”

Also on Sunday, The News published a retrospective of the case. In a column today, Errol Louis of The News discusses the legacy of the case. The News has also put together a collection of articles by the columnist Mike McAlary, who wrote extensively about the case in 1997. Mr. McAlary died of colon cancer in 1998.

On July 30, The New York Post published a profile of Mr. Louima, reporting that he lived a comfortable life in Miami Lakes, Fla., with his wife and three children. The family owns several luxury cars. Mr. Louima has established a charity to support causes in Haiti.

Mr. Louima was evidently not happy with the portrayal of his prosperous lifestyle, according to Newsday. A Newsday article published on Sunday focused on Mr. Louima’s activism against police brutality. “Maybe God figured I was the one to make it public,” Mr. Louima told Newsday. “God wanted me to suffer, he had a plan for me.”

The Associated Press published an account of the case today to mark the anniversary. At 7:30 p.m., Mr. Louima is scheduled to join the Rev. Al Sharpton at the National Action Network, Mr. Sharpton’s political organization, at 106 West 145th Street in Harlem, for a discussion of the legacy of the case.

Al Baker contributed reporting.


12 Comments

  1. 1. August 9, 2007 3:31 pm Link

    My first reaction was ‘how time flies’. I remember the case very well as I suppose most everybody does. But the police department didn’t seem to learn anything from this. Transgressions against the black community continued, it was mostly toward black men. If it wasn’t physical then it would be verbal – humiliating these same people.
    As long as the rule of ‘not ratting on a fellow officer’ trumps everything else these transgressions will continue in this city.
    But on the other hand – as long as ‘don’t snitch’ prevails in the black community then yes, the police will give black people little respect.
    Ruth Beazer

    — Ruth Beazer
  2. 2. August 9, 2007 3:55 pm Link

    Why can’t I save this article in my archives?

    — Molly Wassermann
  3. 3. August 9, 2007 4:21 pm Link

    From the City Room

    Molly,

    I presume you are referring to the TimesSelect archive. Regrettably, we do not have that or other sharing tools built into our blog platform at this time, but we are working on that. In the meantime, you can bookmark this page on your browser or with a service like del.icio.us. It will not expire. You could also e-mail to yourself using the link above. Thank you for the suggestion — we are a new blog and have a long list of technical improvements we are working on.

    — Patrick LaForge
  4. 4. August 9, 2007 5:21 pm Link

    What they did to Mr. Louima was wrong. Very wrong. Those who did it got penalties in line with the crime. On the other hand, other people have suffered far worse permanent and disabling injuries and have not received a fraction of what Mr. Louima was paid (by all tax paying New Yorkers-we didn’t harm Mr. Louima). Cash settlements for pain and suffering should provide reasonable compensation for the pain and suffering and compensation for lost wages and the ability to earn a living, especially in one’s career or profession. These settlements should not turn the victim into a multimillionaire living a lifestyle few of us ever will experience. Our soldiers in Iraq suffer far greater injuries and risks than Mr. Louima as our government places them in harms way without allowing them to turn loose the full fury they are capable of, permits Iran to continue supplying and training insurgents with armor penetrating devices that have killed hundreds of our people and maimed many more–but these heroes will received a pittance and limited medical care if they do make it back alive. See Mr. Louima dressed up in such a distinguised manner in front of his minifleet of luxury automobiles did not contribute to the sympathy I once felt for his plight. I wonder how many people would be willing to endure what Mr. Louima did, especially poor and working class people,if they knew they would be rich beyond their imagination after.

    — RickE USA
  5. 5. August 9, 2007 5:26 pm Link

    Molly,
    you can save the page as an html file. Click on and this will store it on your computer and make it accessible off-line.

    — hello
  6. 6. August 9, 2007 7:45 pm Link

    and to think, there’s a slim chance it’ll be Giuliani Time for us all.

    — Dr. J
  7. 7. August 9, 2007 8:19 pm Link

    “But on the other hand – as long as ‘don’t snitch’ prevails in the black community then yes, the police will give black people little respect.” -Ruth Beazer

    Yep, because all black people don’t cooperate with the police, right? Also, because of this “fact”, all black people deserve to be treated like trash? What an idiotic statement.

    — Jon
  8. 8. August 11, 2007 11:53 am Link

    TO Mr.RickE:

    Yup the tax payers had to pay. If the tax payers don’t want to pay for the attrocities of cops, they shouldn’t look the other way at the wrong doing and keep voting for more power and less accountability to police.

    I am sorry that out troops are being misused in Iraq, but that’s another issue.

    — Wilkins
  9. 9. August 19, 2007 7:41 pm Link

    It’s sad that years after Abner Louima’s horrific ordeal, police brutality is alive and well in America. The police beat up a girl at Reagan National Airport in DC. They assaulted this girl and gave her a serious brain injury and made her entire body black and blue. Then they arrested HER and charged her with a made up crime to cover up the police brutality. The airport police are supposed to be there to protect us from terrorists, not beat up and harass young women, mothers and babies. What happened to Mr. Louima and this poor girl should not happen in America.

    — Jenn
  10. 10. September 9, 2007 4:15 am Link

    All too typical of the Post to focus on the “several luxury cars.”

    — Nancy Irving
  11. 11. February 5, 2008 8:29 am Link

    WOW I have just heard of a new form of police brutality

    — Andrew Miller
  12. 12. April 19, 2009 4:16 pm Link

    I feel that the police are always thought of as criminals. Sure Police brutality is spreading. But if they DO get caught do you think that the criminals in the jail cells are gonna like cops???
    Either THEY will get abused or spend 23 hours a day in protective custody.

    — Ken

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