The Chief

December 17, 1999

30 Years for Volpe In Louima Assault

'Lost His Soul'

By William Van Auken

Six months after pleading guilty to a vicious assault in a Brooklyn stationhouse bathroom, former Police Officer Justin A. Volpe was sentenced Dec. 13 to 30 years in Federal prison.

Judge Eugene H. Nickerson, having heard the prosecution argue for life without parole and a defense appeal that 20 years in prison would be severe enough, rendered his decision, declaring, "I sentence under the guidelines, not because of the emotions displayed here."

Volpe, Louima Speak

Mr. Volpe and his victim, Abner Louima, both had their say before the sentence was handed down. The former officer, considerably thinner after half a year in solitary confinement, was brought in wearing a light blue prison smock, his hands held out in front of him as if they were still in cuffs. Mr. Louima wore a dark suit, a Haitian flag pin affixed to his lapel.

His voice cracking, the ex-Brooklyn cop apologized to Mr. Louima and to Patrick Antoine, another Haitian immigrant whom he assaulted Aug. 9, 1997, after police responded to a disturbance outside a Brooklyn nightclub.

He reiterated a claim that the Government prosecuted the wrong man as the cop who joined him in the 70th Precinct bathroom with Mr. Louima. Charles Schwarz, convicted of holding the Haitian immigrant down during the assault, had never been in the bathroom, he said, while Police Officer Thomas Wiese, who was acquitted, was there.

Mr. Volpe said his experiences in the NYPD helped "explain the background" for the crime he committed. "I witnessed misery on a daily basis," he said. "I saw innocent babies dead, being handled like dead chickens in the morgue." The ex-cop recalled assaults with knives and machetes, wrestling guns from men's hands and having "bottles, bricks, and debris of all kinds thrown at me."

"I experienced these things as a Police Officer, but also as a human being," he said, adding that he was compelled to deal with people that "the rest of society doesn't even want to see."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad argued that life without parole was warranted by an "almost inconceivably brutal act of humiliation and torture."

He dismissed claims that the attack was a spontaneous act of rage for which the ex-cop immediately felt disgust and shame. He pointed to trial testimony that Mr. Volpe warned Mr. Louima that he was going to "teach him a lesson on how to respect cops," and then carefully prepared the assault, breaking off the piece of broomstick and borrowing a pair of gloves from another officer. Afterwards, he added, Mr. Volpe bragged about the assault to other cops.

In addition to the two Haitian immigrants, Mr. Vinegrad listed the NYPD as a victim of Mr. Volpe's actions. "He single-handedly has done more to tarnish the reputation of the New York City Police Department," he said, "than any man in history."

At least five members of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association leadership as well as two union attorneys were present for the hearing. Robert Zink said that the union's principal concern was the impact Mr. Volpe's statement would have on Mr. Schwarz, for whom the PBA is seeking a new trial. He added that they hoped to comfort the family, including Mr. Volpe's father Robert, a former NYPD detective.

Also present was Lieut. Eric Adams, President of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, The leader of the African-American fraternal group questioned the union's presence. "To show support for someone who has been convicted of an act so horrendous as this serves to denigrate the department's fallen heroes," he said.

Outside the courtroom, Robert Volpe said that "The NYPD should be held accountable" for his son's actions. "There are a lot of young men out there who are accidents waiting to happen," he said. His son had been assigned to "four years of steady midnights, not getting the proper amount of sleep and perhaps not getting needed psychological help," he said. "You can lose your life on that street, but you can also lose your soul."