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Al Sharpton Reacts to Overturned Convictions in Louima Case

Aired February 28, 2002 - 12:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news wheel continues, and it's got more coming.


HARRIS: And Fredricka Whitfield is here to take care of that for us now.

KAGAN: We'll let you take it.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: That's right. You guys have been talking about -- thanks very much, you too. You've been talking about the Louima case and the overturning of three convictions involving three police officers out of New York, whose cases were overturned on the grounds of insufficient evidence, according to a federal appeals court. We're getting all kinds of reaction out of New York.

Right now, Al Sharpton is addressing an audience there in New York, and let's go to him now.


REV. AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST: that Bruder acted alone when that is not only not the evidence but physically impossible. It is a blow to all American citizens and clearly is something that we will not sit by and tolerate.

Firstly, we call upon the federal prosecutors to not only pursue the new trial ordered on Schwarz but pursue relevant, winable and necessary charges against all of those that are guilty. And prepare immediately to do so, because any lacking of doing so, would be, in my judgment, a permanent miscarriage of justice as it relates to policing in this country.

Secondly, we call upon Senator Schumer and others that are now involved in deliberating on who would be the U.S. Attorney in Eastern District, to make sure that whomever that is, that they will aggressively pursue the new case as the older cases were pursued. The problem here is, even with the new case that has been ordered, we will now be facing a questionable new prosecutor, who may or may not have the same commitment and dedication as the outgoing prosecutor. Which means, in effect, this could mean that they have let these people walk on one of the ugliest, most pathetic and certainly sick crimes that we've seen in the history of this city. We intend to pursue this. I have a call in to the federal prosecutors. I have a call in to Senator Schumer. We intend to meet immediately with both. We also, however, want to make it clear that this is just one more round. The fight is not over. We intend to meet Schwarz in court. We intend to pursue the charges that can still stand against the others, and we intend to let the world know that Mr. Volpes confession validated forever, that Abner Louima did not lie. We cannot allow one man to take a fall, when clearly, one man could not have operated alone and clearly this is something that impedes the faith of people in the criminal justice system and in the process in these United States.

Any questions?


WHITFIELD: You've been listening to Al Sharpton in New York, rather incensed about the federal appeals court overturning the conviction of three of the police officers involved in the attack against Hatian immigrant, Abner Louima, back in 1997. We'll be having a little bit more from Al Sharpton later on on "TALKBACK LIVE."

He said, this is not over, this is just one round. We are hoping to see Charles Schwarz, who was one of the three officers, in court once again. And, in addition to hearing from Al Sharpton later on today on "TALKBACK LIVE," we'll also, in about 30 minutes, going to be hearing from one of Louima's attorneys, Sanford Rubenstein. He's holding a news conference at about 12:30, and we'll, of course, bring you that.

Let's now go to New York, back to New York, and talk with Deborah Feyerick. She's been covering this story for reaction out of New York. We've been hearing from Reverend Al Sharpton, and obviously, an awful lot of people in New York are very unsettled about what has taken place this morning, Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Everybody is trying to sort out exactly what the appeals court ruling means. And to bring you back a little. This was a brutal assault inside Brooklyn's 70th Precinct. A Haitian immigrant sodomized by police officer Justin Volpe and the three other cops also implicated were found guilty for their roles.

And to put it into perspective, this had so rocked New York City. There were huge demonstrations, public cries of police brutality, a shakeup of the NYPD and the threat of federal oversight. This was really a city divided. Now the three of the ex-officers who have had their convictions overturned. What it means for Charles Schwarz is, he has a shot at freedom. He was found guilty of violating Abner Louima's civil rights for holding Louima down while Volpes sodomized Louima with a plunger handle.

Schwarz has maintained he was never near the bathroom where the assault took place. The prosecutor said that was a story Scwarz made up with two other officers, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder. They were found guilty of obstructing justice, lying to cover all this up. Well, an appeals court has now overturned the convictions of those three cops, ruling, that in the case of Charles Schwarz, the court has said he was denied effective assistance of counsel and that the jury may have been exposed to material which prejudiced them during deliberations. So a new trial has been ordered in that case.

The appeals court also found that in a second trial, the one of obstruction of justice, that's got to be thrown out because of a lack of evidence. So this is a victory for the three disgraced officers and a big blow to prosecutors. Louima did sue the city, settling for close to $9 million. The appeals court has said Charles Schwarz can get another trial.

Schwarz is a former Marine. He's been moved around between seven federal presents -- prisons, kept in solitary confinement. And his wife has really been on a massive crusade, holding fundraisers, sending out mailings, trying to free her husbands (sic). We have called the prosecutor's office several times, and it not clear just what their next step will be. All of this sorting itself out now. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: And also, Deborah, hadn't Schwarz also complained about that solitary confinement? You said his wife has been campaigning on his behalf, that he wasn't getting the proper treatment while being held?

FEYERICK: Well, one of the -- the Federal Bureau of Prisons has basically said that they cannot guarantee his freed -- his safety, basically, if he is in the public domain of the prison, so they've locked him away in solitary confinement. His lawyer has said that that's basically cruel and unusual punishment and that, you know, he'd rather take his chances. But to be locked up like that, is even more unfair. So, you know, there are -- it's a big day for them.

WHITFIELD: You said it's going to be difficult to know exactly what the next step is. If there is indeed a retrial, one more detail that's further complicating matters is that the judge that was in charge of this past case, he has since died of pneumonia, just last January, Eugene Nickerson (ph). How much more complicated is it now going to get in this case, to try to retrieve those records and find out whether indeed the jury was prejudiced -- prejudicial, as the federal appeals court judges are saying now?

FEYERICK: Well, this is what's very interesting. During the trials, there was a lot of emotion on all sides of the platform here. Charles Schwarz's family basically accusing the judge of acting unfairly, accusing prosecutors of going out on a vendetta to get Charles Schwarz. And so the fact that they've got a new judge, that could actually help them.

Schwarz's side has basically said, the judge has been prejudiced all along or was affected by, sort of, the publicity surrounding this case. Meantime, on the Louima side, you know, there -- the judge was always ruling in their favor. So, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens. But, again, an issue that people thought was over has now, basically, skyrocketed back onto central stage. WHITFIELD: And, Deborah, you touched on it earlier, about the protests, the demonstrations that took place shortly after it was revealed that this attack had taken place involving Louima. Al Sharpton alluded to, this fight is not over. It's frightening to think what exactly may be taking place or what may be brewing in New York now.

Thanks very much, Deborah Feyerick, for New York.

Now, of course, later, we're going to be hearing, once again, as I mentioned, in less than, now, 25 minutes -- we're going to be hearing from one of Louima's attorneys. He's holding a press conference. Sanford Rubenstein will be addressing the audience there, and we'll, of course, bring that to you live.





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