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Abner Louima's Attorney Gives a Press Conference

Aired February 28, 2002 - 12:28   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring you up to date now on the Abner Louima case, where three of the police officers who were convicted in being involved in the beating of Abner Louima back in 1997. A federal appeals court this morning overturned three of the police officers' convictions.

And one of attorneys that represented Abner Louima is talking now in New York, and that is Sanford Rubenstein. We want to take you there now.


SANFORD RUBENSTEIN, LOUIMA ATTORNEY: ... fully willing to cooperate, again, with the federal prosecutors, as he has in the past. He is attempting to live his life as a private citizen. He has suffered as a victim perhaps the worst case of police abuse and police brutality in the history of this country, and he wants to live his life like any of us would want to live their lives, without any further interference -- without any further need to comment to the press, so he will not be commenting to the press.

I'll take questions.

QUESTION: Do you know what his thoughts are on this?

RUBENSTEIN: He has indicated that he does not wish to comment with regard to this. He has confidence in the system of justice that we have, and that he abides by as a citizen, and will cooperate with the federal authorities with regards to a new trial.

QUESTION: Now basically the evidence they are talking about is these phone records that link these three police officers together to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that was the basis of convicting him in the first place. What do you think about that...

RUBENSTEIN: Well, apparently, I have not read the decision, so I really don't know the specifics that the circuit court of appeals relied on, but the indications are was they ruled there was insufficient evidence, and the court of appeals is a determiner of errors of law, with regard to a trial on the trial level, and they have ruled, so the case is effectively dismissed?

It has no effect whatsoever, and nor does it have any effect on the fact that Justin Volpe pled guilty, and is serving a long prison term for what he did to Abner Louima.

QUESTION: Is Abner living in New York still?

RUBENSTEIN: Abner is available to testify. With regard to where he's living, I think he'd rather me not comment.

QUESTION: Is this something that caught you by surprise, or are you emotionally surprised by it?

RUBENSTEIN: Well, we knew there was an appeal pending. We were present for the argument of the appeal before the circuit court, and we knew they were willing on both the conviction of officer Schwarz and the convictions of officers Wiesz, Bruder and Schwarz on the conspiracy case. So we were awaiting the decision, and the court of appeals has made its decision apparently today.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the conflict of interests?

RUBENSTEIN: Apparently, something in the ruling related to the fact that the attorney that represented Schwarz in the first trial was not only was his lawyer, but also I believe a lawyer for the PBA. I am not sure if that was the specific issue, because I haven't read the decision. But in some press reports, it has been indicated that that was one issue of conflict, as well as an issue of prejudicial material that the jury had access to, that they shouldn't have, prior to their making their determination, with regards to the conviction of Schwarz.

Well, one appeals from the district court to the circuit court, and that's the appropriate appellate court to rule on the issues that come up during the trial.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to speak to Abner? What was his reaction?

RUBENSTEIN: I have spoken to Abner, and Abner is a victim, and he wants to be able to live his life with his family in privacy, so he will have not comment in regard to this. He will cooperate with the federal authorities, but I would hope and urge the press to allow him to live his life as a private citizen.

Look, let's not lose site of what happened here. Abner was the victim of an assault by Justin Volpe that was perhaps one of the worst examples of police brutality in the history of this country. He pleaded guilty to that. Abner Louima is a victim. Whether he testifies at another trial or doesn't testify at another trial, his credibility is something that is at issue. He did to Abner Louima a crime of a magnitude that we in this country could not attempt to envision, but it happened, he pled guilty to it, he acknowledged that it happened, and he is doing a long prison term, and in that regard, justice has been done.

With regard to the trial, the retrial of officer Schwarz, Abner Louima will cooperate with the federal authorities, and we look to the federal authorities to vigorously prosecute, once again, as they had in the initial case, the indictment. Well one of the points that Reverend Sharpton just made in his press conference was that he has concerns that Alan Vongright (ph), who presently is the U.S. attorney. If does not remain as the U.S. attorney and there is a new U.S. attorney, that whoever is appointed should be one who was as vigorous as Alan Vongright was, who is the trial attorney, in prosecuting this case, and indicated that he will speak with Senator Schumer, with regard to this matter, because he has concerns that I think the community has, to make sure that if there is a retrial, which apparently there will be, it is prosecuted as vigorously as Alan Vongright prosecuted the first trial.

WHITFIELD: You have been listening to Sanford Rubenstein, who's one of the attorneys of Abner Louima. He has made it very clear that he, and collectively, Abner Louima, as well as the other attorneys involved, are very disappointed about today's federal appeals court overturning of the convictions of three of the police officers who had been convicted of helping in the assault of Abner Louima back in 1997. Mr. Rubenstein saying that he looks forward now to federal authorities to vigorously prosecute in this case.

If there is indeed a retrial, he believes strongly that there is likely to be a retrial. He says that Abner Louima will be cooperating if indeed there is a retrial. He says, though, Abner Louima is unlikely to comment on this case, because he certainly does not want to at this point, but we did see him earlier today, just following the overturning of the convictions in South Florida. He then said to reporters, who were able to get photos of him as he was walking and leaving his residence, that he does not want to comment.

Let's now look at that tape.


MARK POTTER, CNN ANCHOR: Mark potter with CNN, how are you?

I am just wondering if you had any comment on the news that the officers convictions have been overturned?

ABNER LOUIMA: No, I don't have any comment at this time.

POTTER: Were you surprised by that news.

LOUIMA: No comment.

POTTER: What will you be doing now about it? Will you be talking with your attorney.

LOUIMA: Yes, actually I am talking with my attorneys, so I don't have any comment at this time. If you want any additional comments, you should call my attorneys.

POTTER: And who is your attorney, sir?

LOUIMA: Sanford Rubenstein, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Johnny Cochran.

POTTER: But you do not have any comment you like to offer to us? LOUIMA: Not at this time.

POTTER: Were you surprised?

LOUIMA: Where are you going now?


WHITFIELD: An emphatic no comment from Abner Louima there, victim of the most egregious, certainly, police brutality case in New York back in 1997, talking to CNN's Mark Potter there. He of course declined comment on the case. You heard earlier from attorneys on the case.

Now let's bring in a former prosecutor, Cynthia Alksne, to help us better understand what this all means. People thought that once there was this conviction, even though they knew about hearing that these police officers were going to be appealing, that it really seemed like it was in the bag.

What now Cynthia for this case?

CYNTHIA ALSKNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's a very tough call for the prosecutors involved. The conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, because the three officers that were dismissed, basically overturned and dismissed for insufficient evidence, that's a tough one to think about retrying, because the court of appeals has already said, all of the evidence that you gathered at the time, and that you used in that first trial, was insufficient, and that no rational jury could have convicted them under that evidence. So that means you have to find more evidence if you think you're going to retry this case.

WHITFIELD: And not only that, in that the decision. I haven't seen the complete decision, but it is also reported that what is spelled out in this decision that perhaps the jury was prejudicial as well. How in the world do you fight that if you are the attorneys for Abner Louima?

ALSKNE: Well, it's not a question of those attorneys for Abner Louima. Abner Louima had a civil case. He has won his civil case, and Justin Volpe, the man who actually put the broomstick inside his body and sodomized him, has pled guilty, and admitted this happened to Abner Louima. So there isn't any question it really happened to him. The question is, how was it covered up.

WHITFIELD: And Abner Louima's attorney made it very clear that this overturning of this case has no impact on the settlement of his $8.7 million that he received from the city and the police department in his civil suit.

Cynthia, we're probably going to bring you back a little bit later.




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