Abner Louima: An Infamous NYPD Brutality Case, 20 Years Later

Abner Louima/YouTube video [screenshot]

BROOKLYN, NY — On August 9, 1997, Abner Louima, a 30-year-old married father of one, dropped by Club Rendez-Vous, a popular nightspot among East Flatbush’s Haitian community. At 3 A.M., a fight broke out in front of the club. Louima, while not involved, got caught up in the melee. Officers from the nearby 70th Precinct showed up to restore order.

Among the responders were Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Bruder, and Thomas Wiese. All the cops were white. All the club-goers were Black.

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In the course of the dust-up, Volpe claimed Louima pounded him with a “sucker-punch.” Cops arrested the sewage plant security guard for disorderly conduct, obstructing government administration, and resisting arrest.

Louima would face punishment long before ever even being considered for a trial, though.

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En route to the 70th Precinct house, officers reportedly beat Louima while he was handcuffed. The violence continued upon reaching the station, with fellow cops Rolando Aleman and Francisco Rosario joining in on the torture.

Officer Charles Schwarz ultimately dragged Louima inside the men’s restroom. Volpe was inside.

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Behind the locked bathroom door, according to court documents, Volpe kicked and squeezed Louima’s testicles. He then sodomized Louima with a broken broom handle. After removing the wooden handle, Volpe shoved it into Louima’s mouth, breaking a tooth.

Following the assault, witnesses stated that Volpe paraded through the station carrying the blood-and-feces-drenched broom handle “like a sword” and bragging, “I took a man down tonight!”

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Several hours later, patrolmen took Louima to Coney Island Hospital, chalking his injuries up to “abnormal homosexual activities.” Emergency-room nurse Magalie Laurent didn’t buy it, so, on the sly, she contacted the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau to report suspected police brutality.

New York Daily News, August 13, 1997 [front cover image]

Louima remained hospitalized for the next two months, undergoing three major surgeries to repair his severely ruptured internal organs. The entire time, Volpe, Schwarz, and the other officers involved vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

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Two days later, an anonymous tipster contacted New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, who embarked on an investigation that brought the vile abuse to light, catalyzed the authorities into taking action, and earned the writer a Pulitzer Prize.

Once McAlary’s exposé hit, rookie cop Eric Turetsky, who was in the precinct house that night, came forward to testify against the cops involved. Officer Kenneth Wernick soon followed. The so-called “Blue Wall of Silence” had crumbled.

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The horrific saga ignited huge controversy around New York as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was running for a second term, campaigning largely on the considerable drop in crime that had occurred since he took office.

Louima had initially stated that, during the assault, Volpe said, “This is Giuliani time!” Later, he recanted that statement. The line had been used by a police character in the 1995 Spike Lee movie Clockers. Defense lawyers later tried to use that retracted “Giuliani time” claim to discredit Louima. It didn’t work.

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On May 25, 1999, Police Officer Justin Volpe pleaded guilty in court to violating Abner Louima’s civil rights. Addressing the judge, Volpe said:

“While in the bathroom of the precinct, in the presence of another officer, I sodomized Mr. Louima by placing a stick in his rectum. I then threatened to kill him if he told anybody.”

Volpe later admitted that it wasn’t even Louima who had initially hit him. He got 30-year sentence. Volpe got married in 2012, and is scheduled to be released in 2025.

Jason Schwarz received five years. Thomas Bruder, Thomas Wiese, Rolando Aleman, and Francisco Rosario also all got jail time.

In 2001, Abner Louima received an $8.75 million settlement from New York City and moved to Miami, where he oversees the education-focused charity, the Abner Louima Foundation.

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New York Daily News
New York Times
Vanity Fair
New York Post
New York Magazine

Main photo: Abner Louima/YouTube video [screenshot]