UPDATED: 11:30 a.m. ET, Aug. 9, 2021
Although nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the NYPD’s brutal beating and savage sexual assault of Black Haitian immigrant Abner Louima on Aug. 9, 1997. The incident sparked a public outrage that still resonates to this day.
Standing as one of the most vicious examples of police brutality in America, Louima would seek and find justice, although he was met with skepticism in court after being falsely accused by one of the officers and becoming a target of misplaced rage.
Louima, trained as an electrical engineer in his native Haiti, worked as a security guard in Brooklyn, where he resided with his wife and child. After visiting Club Rendez-Vous, a popular hotspot in Flatbush, he and fellow partygoers got in the middle of a fight between two women.
Police responded to the scene and tensions flared between the patrons and the officers, instigating a large scuffle. Officer Justin Volpe, the ringleader of the assailants in blue, and Charles Schwarz were among the first cops on the scene. Volpe incorrectly assumed Louima struck him with a sucker punch, leading all of the officers to beat the man with nightsticks, two-way radios, and their fists while taking him to the 70th Precinct holding cell.
Louima’s evening would take a turn for the worse when the cops, drunken with anger, took him to a bathroom in the precinct and continued to beat him while Volpe kicked him and squeezed his privates. Volpe then took a plunger handle and sexually assaulted Louima, bragging to a fellow officer that he “took a man down tonight,” according to the trial testimony.
Thankfully, a nurse treating Louima at the emergency room in Coney Island Hospital alerted his family and the Internal Affairs Bureau of the NYPD. Louima would require three surgeries for his colon and bladder and was hospitalized for two months.
The case would receive local and national attention after 7,000 marchers demonstrated and voiced their distaste of the NYPD’s treatment of Louima at New York City Hall and at the 70th Precinct station house. The march was known as the “Day of Outrage Against Police Brutality and Harassment.”
A trial would ensue with Volpe, Schwarz, and three other officers facing a bevy of charges including civil rights violations, obstruction of justice, and false statements, among others. Volpe initially pleaded not guilty but changed his stance during the midway point of the trial.
Volpe would go on to say later he was mistaken in naming Louima as the man who struck him at the nightclub incident. The evidence mounted up against Volpe was staggering and on December 13, 1999, he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole along with fines.
Schwarz was given 15 years in 2000 for his role in assisting Volpe in the bathroom, where the more heinous assault took place. Three other officers were indicted but avoided prison time based on insufficient evidence.
Louima would sue the city, resulting in an $8.75 million dollar settlement – the largest police brutality settlement in New York City history. Louima has since moved to Miami Lakes, Florida, and owns homes in the state and in his homeland.
In a 2003 interview, Louima talked about using some of his settlement funds to assist people in Haiti.
“Maybe God saved my life for a reason, I believe in doing the right thing,” said Louima graciously.
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