- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

NEW YORK A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that three police officers found guilty in the notorious case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant tortured in a station house five years ago, did not get a fair trial.

The three-judge panel said there was insufficient evidence that the three officers had obstructed justice. One of them, Charles Schwarz, who is serving a 15-year sentence for holding down Mr. Louima while he was sodomized, will get a new trial.

After the ruling, Mr. Schwarz's wife, Andra, was pouring champagne with her attorney, Ron Fischetti, who broke the news to Mr. Schwarz by telephone in front of television cameras. While Mrs. Schwarz worked to bring attention to her husband's case, he spent two years and eight months in solitary confinement in seven federal prisons, the most recent in Oklahoma City.

Mrs. Schwarz was jubilant. "He wondered why it was taking so long, but we knew it would be reversed," she said. "It was so absolutely unjust."

The attack on Mr. Louima took place while he was in custody at the 70th precinct in Brooklyn after police arrested him in a melee outside a nightclub on Aug. 19, 1997. Mr. Louima was sodomized with a broken broom handle in a station-house lavatory by Officer Justin Volpe, who admitted his guilt and is serving a 30-year sentence.

After the attack, Mr. Louima spent 2½ months in the hospital for a ruptured bladder and colon. His cause was immediately taken up by the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights agitator who drew support mainly from black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned the convictions of Thomas Wiese, Thomas Bruder and Charles Schwarz. The court ordered a new trial in Mr. Schwarz's case, saying his conviction for civil rights violations must be thrown out because he was denied effective counsel and the jury was exposed to prejudicial information during its deliberations.

The court also ruled that convictions against the three men at a second trial for conspiracy to obstruct justice must be thrown out for insufficient evidence.

Officers Wiese and Bruder received five-year sentences for lying to the FBI about Mr. Schwarz's role, but they have been free on bond pending the appeal. Mr. Bruder's attorney, Stuart London, said: "It's a sweet day when you can show the government was wrong."

A total of four officers were convicted in three trials; two pleaded guilty. Yesterday's court ruling does not affect Mr. Volpe. However, his attorney, Marvyn Kornberg, said he hoped the ruling would pave the way for another look at what he called Mr. Volpe's "excessive" sentence.

Mr. Louima moved to Florida last year after winning $8.7 million in a lawsuit against the city and the police union. He told reporters in front of his house yesterday that he had no comment. Attorney Sanford Rubenstein said he and Mr. Louima will work with prosecutors to fight the latest ruling: "Abner is a victim, and as long as it takes, we will cooperate with the federal government to see that justice is done."

Mr. Sharpton, who has led protests against the New York Police Department charging it with brutality and racial profiling, said he has spoken with Johnnie Cochran, another attorney for Mr. Louima. Mr. Sharpton, who is planning to run for president, said the court's decision was "a shocking display of how the judicial system continues to fail to protect citizens from police abuse."

A spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said although the Louima incident was "barbaric," throughout U.S. history "courts have made controversial decisions, but we must respect the legal process, as it is a cornerstone of our democracy."

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