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Wednesday, June 9, 1999 Published at 02:21 GMT 03:21 UK

World: Americas

NYPD officer guilty of beating

Schwarz faces life imprisonment for his role in the assault

A jury in the United States has convicted a New York police officer of beating a Haitian immigrant in a case which led to renewed racial tensions in the city.

Jason Mills in New York: The 'blue wall of silence' did come down
The officer, Charles Schwarz, was found guilty of beating the immigrant, Abner Louima, in a police station, then holding him down as he was tortured.

Earlier in the trial, another officer, Justin Volpe, pleaded guilty to the more serious charge of carrying out the assault.

[ image: Security guard Abner Louima has filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit]
Security guard Abner Louima has filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit
The jury reached the verdict after 18 hours of deliberations over three days in the case. They heard four weeks of testimony in Brooklyn federal court.

Correspondents say both Schwarz and Volpe face up to life in prison because of the sexual nature of the assault. The judge has wide discretion in the actual sentence.

Mr Louima suffered severe internal injuries, including a ruptured bladder and colon, after being sexually assaulted with a broken broom handle at Brooklyn's 70th Precinct stationhouse in August 1997.


The BBC's Brian Barron reports on a brutality case which shook public confidence
The jury acquitted two other officers, Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese, of assaulting Mr Louima in a police car on his way to the precinct.

[ image: Mr Louima was assaulted in this bathroom]
Mr Louima was assaulted in this bathroom
A third officer, Sgt Michael Bellomo, was found not guilty on all charges of covering up the assaults on Louima.

There were shouts and groans in the crowded courtroom as the verdicts were read out.

When the not guilty verdict against Mr Bruder was read out there was applause from the public section, where the officers' families had been watching the trial.

But the applause turned to muffled sobs and cries of "Oh no" when the guilty verdict against Schwarz was read.

Wall of silence broken

The case, involving white police officers and a black victim, outraged many New Yorkers and raised tensions between police and minorities in the city.

[ image: The case has provoked a storm of controversy]
The case has provoked a storm of controversy
Mr Louima's account of the assault, which took place after he had been arrested following a brawl outside a nightclub, was corroborated by four of the convicted officers' colleagues.

The witnesses told internal affairs detectives investigating Mr Louima's allegations that Volpe had bragged about the assault afterwards.

The victim testified that Volpe told him: "If I ever talk to anyone about what happened to me, he kill me and everybody in my family."

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir purged the command of the 70th Precinct after the incident and established a task force to improve relations between police and ethnic communities.

But the moves fell far short of demands for a commission to monitor the conduct of the 38,000-strong police force, the largest in the United States.

The NYPD is now bracing itself for the trial of four more policemen charged with murder after an unarmed West African immigrant was hit by 19 police bullets.

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