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NY Cop Pleads Guilty in Louima Case

May 25, 1999 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A white police officer pleaded guilty today to federal civil rights charges for sodomizing a Haitian immigrant with a wooden stick in a vicious precinct-house assault that created a national outcry against police brutality.

Justin Volpe, 27, the ringleader in the attack on Abner Louima, faces up to life in prison without parole in the attack.

With his hands clasped in front of him and his voice showing signs of nervousness, Volpe made his first public admission of what happened in the Brooklyn stationhouse.

``In the bathroom of the precinct, I sodomized Mr. Abner Louima with a stick, then threatened to kill him if he told anybody,″ Volpe said.

``You wanted to intimidate, did you not?″ Judge Eugene Nickerson asked.

``Yes,″ the officer replied.

The jury was out of the courtroom when Volpe entered his plea in the August 1997 assault. Earlier, the officer and his lawyer, Marvyn Kornberg, entered the Brooklyn courthouse without saying a word to reporters.

Kornberg had told a federal judge on Monday that his client intended to enter the plea. Four other police officers remain on trial.

The plea was not part of a bargain with the prosecution. After a string of witnesses damaging to his case, Volpe essentially threw himself on the mercy of the court, hoping for leniency from the judge. No sentencing date was set.

The guilty plea was hailed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, saying the resolution of the charge was ``very encouraging to the image of the police department. ... (It) destroys the myth of the blue wall of silence.″

Civil rights leater the Rev. Al Sharpton said Volpe’s plea was only the first step in the process. ``New York would be a safer place if everyone engaged in this is taken off the street,″ he said. ``We will not be satisfied until full justice is achieved.″

Volpe was the central figure in the racially charged case, where five white officers were indicted on charges of violating the civil rights of the black Louima. The jury, which is not sequestered, will not be told in court of the plea.

Nickerson later asked Volpe if any other officers were involved in the attack _ a key question, since Volpe’s four police co-defendants remain on trial.

``What I testified to is the truth about what I did,″ Volpe responded. ``I did not see any other officer hit Mr. Louima.″

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Volpe did say another police officer was in the precinct bathroom, saw what had happened, and failed to intervene. He did not identify the officer, and defense attorneys pointed out that nothing Volpe said today can be used against their clients.

There was no indication that he would be testifying against the remaining defendants.

The red-eyed officer, the son of a retired police detective, apologized to his family in court for his role in the beating.

Volpe was accused of ramming a stick into Louima’s rectum and mouth in a fit of rage _ the charge carrying the life sentence. He was injured so severely he was hospitalized for two months and had to undergo a colostomy.

In opening statements, Kornberg had suggested the married Louima had been injured during homosexual intercourse and also suggested he made up the attack story to get money from a civil suit against the city.

Prosecutors say Volpe mistakenly thought Louima, 32, punched him in a disturbance outside a Brooklyn nightclub on Aug. 9, 1997. Volpe also was charged with beating Louima en route to the 70th Precinct stationhouse, conspiracy, witness tampering and falsely arresting and beating another Haitian. He entered guilty pleas today to all counts, but the judge rejected one plea involving the other man.

Officer Charles Schwarz is accused of holding down Louima during the bathroom assault. Schwarz and Officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder also are charged with beating Louima en route to the stationhouse; Sgt. Michael Bellomo is charged with covering up the beating.

Although Volpe’s legal team had not yet begun its defense, the officer’s case appeared to be damaged by testimony from fellow police officers.

The first officer to shatter the so-called ``blue wall of silence,″ Detective Eric Turetzky, testified seeing a disheveled and sullen Volpe ``swinging the stick around like a sword and hitting it against the wall″ around the time of the bathroom assault.

Next came Officer Mark Schofield, who testified that Volpe borrowed a pair of black leather gloves and returned them covered with blood and that he also had seen Volpe with a ``stick-like object.″

Sgt. Kenneth Wernick testified Volpe bragged that he ``took a stick and put it 5 or 6 inches up (Louima’s rectum), took it out and put it up to his mouth and teeth area, kind of like showing it to him.‴

Officer Michael Schoer testified Volpe had taunted him by putting the end of an excrement-soiled stick in his face.