By the TimesLedger Staff
Queens residents were infuriated when a federal appeals court unanimously overturned the convictions of three officers in the brutal torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima last week.
Last Thursday, the Second U.S. Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Charles Schwarz, who was convicted in 1999 of violating Louima’s civil rights by helping Justin Volpe sodomize Louima with a stick. The court also threw out the convictions of Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder on charges of obstructing justice.
“I am dismayed at both how and why the appeals court concluded that there was insufficient evidence in the obstruction of justice convictions,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans). “I am appalled that it threw out Schwarz’s civil rights violation conviction on the grounds that Schwarz was denied effective council and that his jury was exposed to prejudicial information.”
The court ruled Schwarz’s defense was compromised because his lawyer, Steven Worth, also had a $10 million contract to represent the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
Volpe, who pleaded guilty to the charges of violating the civil rights of Louima, is serving 30 years in jail for sodomizing Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Meeks said the decision by the court ordering a new trial for Schwarz is far from a given. He said the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District who brought the convictions against the three will step down from the position when President George Bush names a successor.
Many residents of the borough’s Haitian community in Cambria Heights and Laurelton were angered at the ruling and felt that justice had not been served. They also believe the ruling was a setback in their push for equal rights in New York City and the United States.
“I felt it was not fair and justice was not done,” said Harold Dasque, executive director of Haitian Americans United for Progress. “They are getting away with something that was wrong.”
HAUP, based in Cambria Heights, has been fighting for the rights of the Haitian community in Queens for the past 26 years. The organization helps Haitian immigrants with legal, financial and cultural problems they might face.
“I knew it was going to happen,” said Marie Georges, a senior at York College in Jamaica and an active member of the college’s Haitian club. “The justice system does not work for blacks, and being Haitian doesn’t make it any easier.”
Ken Cohen, president of the northeast Queens NAACP in Flushing, said he was “in shock” after he heard the court’s decision. He said it seemed as the courts waited until all of the uproar about the case cooled down and then overturned the decision.
“Not everybody is suited for the job [of police officer]. It takes a certain type of person to do the job,” he said. “People slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, in many cases they end up being in the street in minority communities.”
Nina Adams, president of the Queensbridge Tenants Association, said the judges’ decision was terrible, and she was sick to her stomach when she heard the news.
“They’re trying to cover it up,” she said. “Now all of the sudden they come back and they’re not guilty. I couldn’t believe it.”
Elizabeth McQueen, president of Friends of Queensbridge Park, said she could not understand how the court’s decision was reached. She said somebody knows what happened, and wondered why someone would want to cover it up.
“Justice was not served,” said Jackie Victor, a receptionist at HAUP.