A white former patrolman was sentenced to 30 years in prison today for torturing a Haitian immigrant with a broken broomstick in one of the most shocking acts of police brutality ever in New York.
Justin Volpe, 27, who pleaded guilty to violating the victim's civil rights, could have gotten life without parole for the 1997 attack.
"I hurt many people. I was and still am ashamed. . . . I am extremely sorry," Volpe told U.S. District Judge Eugene Nickerson. "I must and I will pay for my crime."
Volpe rammed a broomstick into Abner Louima's rectum in a police station bathroom after arresting Louima. Police said Volpe mistakenly thought Louima had punched him during a melee outside a Brooklyn nightclub.
Louima, who addressed the court during the sentencing, did not ask for any specific punishment. "I suffered three operations to repair my bladder, colon and intestines. I spent over 2 1/2 months in the hospital," Louima said. "Sometimes I ask God, 'Why me?' and why he let me live. But when I look at my family, my kids, my wife and all my friends and supporters, that gives me courage."
The case strained relations between the police department and minorities and sparked demonstrations against police brutality. Louima has also filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging police were shielded by a "blue wall of silence."
The judge said the 30-year sentence was severe enough to punish Volpe's "barbarous misuse of power" without capitulating to the intense public pressure.
"It would be difficult to overstate the harm Mr. Volpe inflicted on Mr. Louima, the police department and society at large," Nickerson said.
Prosecutor Alan Vinegrad had asked for the maximum, saying Volpe had repeatedly lied by contending among other things that Louima's injuries were caused by gay sex. Vinegrad also noted that at the time of the assault, Volpe bragged to other officers about "how he broke a man down."
"He actually went and retrieved the stick with Mr. Louima's feces still on it and walked around the precinct, brandishing this feces-filled stick in front of his fellow police officers," Vinegrad said.
Defense attorney Marvin Kornberg had urged the judge not to impose more than 20 years in prison. There is no parole in the federal system, but Volpe may earn time off for good behavior. He also was ordered to pay Louima $277,495 restitution.
Louima, a 30-year-old security guard, claimed that Volpe, Charles Schwarz and two other police officers took turns beating him in a police car after his arrest in the nightclub disturbance. Prosecutors failed to prove those charges at a trial earlier this year.
But Louima also said the driver of the car--identified as Schwarz--dragged him into a police station bathroom and held him down while Volpe brutalized him with the stick.
Volpe pleaded guilty in the middle of trial after other officers broke the "blue wall of silence" and testified how he waved the stick around proudly.
The jury convicted Schwarz of violating Louima's civil rights. He is awaiting sentencing and could get life in prison.
CAPTION: Abner Louima speaks to reporters after his attacker's sentencing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y.