2 minute read

Justin A. Volpe et al. Trials: 1999 & 2000

A Breach In The "blue Wall"

The trial opened on May 6, 1999. In his opening statement, Volpe's lawyer, Marvyn Kornberg, started an aggressive defense, accusing Louima of lying and suggesting the victim's injuries had come from consensual homosexual sex that had taken place at the nightclub. However, testimony soon revealed that the famed "blue wall of silence," with which police officers traditionally surrounded and protected their fellow cops who were in trouble, had been breached by the severe brutality alleged and now evidenced in the courtroom.

Detective Eric Turetzky, who was on duty when Louima was brought in, testified that he saw officer Schwarz lead the Haitian, whose hands were cuffed and whose trousers and underpants were around his knees, down the hallway toward the men's room where the assault with the stick occurred. City officials hailed Turetzky as a hero for breaking the code of silence. The detective said, "I knew I had information. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I made a decision to come forward."

Officer Mark Schofield said Schwarz led Louima toward the hallway and Volpe had borrowed a pair of gloves, taken them into the bathroom with the prisoner, and that they were bloody when he came out. Sergeant Kenneth Wernick testified that Volpe had boasted that "I took a man down tonight," and had walked around the station house displaying a broken broomstick covered with blood and excrement.

Then, on May 25, after denying the charges and pleading not guilty for 21 months, Volpe asked Kornberg to enter a plea of guilty. Hoping to avoid the maximum sentence of life in prison, the defendant admitted, "While in the bathroom of the precinct, in the presence of another officer, I sodomized Mr. Louima with a stick." Weeping, Volpe added, "I told him if you tell anyone, I will find you and I will kill you."

The former officer explained that, in the fray outside the nightclub, he had thought Louima had punched him. At the station house, he said, he had taken the prisoner to the restroom to demand an answer as to why Louima had hit him; Louima had cursed him repeatedly he claimed, and he had gone into "an animal rage."

"The next thing I knew," said Volpe, "the stick was in. My actions were wrong." Later, he admitted, he had realized he had been mistaken about who punched him.

As Volpe went to a cell to await sentencing, the trial resumed. On June 9, after 18 hours of deliberation, the jury found Charles Schwarz guilty of beating Louima, then holding him down during the torture. Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese were found not guilty of the assault in the police car; Sergeant Michael Bellomo was acquitted in the cover-up charge.

Volpe, however, changed his story at this point, telling both a psychologist and a probation officer that Schwarz had been wrongfully convicted because he had not helped in the assault. Schwarz awaited sentencing as his lawyer tried to appeal the conviction.

In a crowded courtroom on December 13, 1999, Judge Eugene H. Nickerson sentenced Volpe to 30 years imprisonment and also ordered him to pay $277,495 in restitution, at a rate—questioned by courtroom skeptics—of $25 a month. Handing down the sentence, Judge Nickerson declared, "Short of intentional murder, one cannot imagine a more barbarous misuse of power than Volpe's."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentJustin A. Volpe et al. Trials: 1999 2000 - "… On Tomorrow's Front Page.…", Cops Reassigned, Suspended, Arrested, A Breach In The "blue Wall"