A federal appeals court yesterday overturned the convictions of three white police officers charged in the 1997 torture case of Abner Louima. The officers — Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder — had all been found guilty in an earlier ruling of brutalizing the Haitian immigrant. All had been sentenced to prison: Schwarz to 16 years for holding down Louima while officer, Justin Volpe, sodomized him with a broken broomstick; and Bruder and Wiese to 5 years for conspiracy to obstruct justice.
But now it looks like the two of the men will go free and the third might. According to yesterday’s court decision, the first trials of Wiese and Bruder did not present sufficient evidence to convict them of a crime. As for Schwartz, the judges ruled that he was denied effective counsel in his initial case. It has also said that some members of the jury were exposed to outside information during their deliberations that could have influenced their decision.
Yesterday’s ruling was yet another stunning twist in a case that became a national symbol of police brutality and ignited one of the first waves of protest against the Giuliani administration and the Police Department. Through successful prosecution, it was also one of the first cases to crack the blue wall of silence that has long protected officers at the expense of justice. But, as yesterday’s reversal suggests, the legacy of this case is far from over.