Abner Louima’s father, Jean, winced and buried his face in his hands as a defense lawyer played back a videotape of his son’s first news conference on August 14, 1997. It was the bedside TV interview civil rights attorneys had organized five days after police officer Justin Volpe allegedly rammed a stick into Louima’s rectum in the bathroom of Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct station house.
Until Abner had gotten to the point where he described “the blood and shit” he threw up following the infamous alleged assault, Jean had been staring at his son— the Haitian immigrant and former used-car salesman, whom no one in the U.S. Attorney’s office had fully prepared for the role of professional victim.
It was Monday afternoon, Day Two of Abner Louima’s testimony in the federal civil rights trial of four white officers accused of beating and sodomizing him after an altercation outside the Haitian nightclub Rendezvous in Flatbush. Louima, dressed in a dark suit, stuttered and mumbled, barely mustering dramatic details in the searing narrative he’d rehearsed for federal prosecutors last month.
More than a year after the Voice first reported Louima’s confession that he never heard his attackers declare “It’s Giuliani time” as they
allegedly pummeled him, Louima shifted in the witness chair and fessed up to the lie under cross-examination from attorney Stephen Worth, who represents officer Charles Schwarz.
“Tell the truth,” a black spectator whispered from her back seat in Judge Eugene H. Nickerson’s hushed courtroom. Louima testified it was Jean-Claude Laurent, the brother-in-law of Magalie Laurent (the Coney Island Hospital nurse to whom Louima first told his horrifying tale), who planted the notorious phrase in his ear. But Worth wanted Louima to spill it all, to reveal more of the dirty politics he hinted were behind the words that portrayed his client as one of Rudy Giuliani’s enforcers.
Louima straightened up. No, he swore. His attorney— Carl W. Thomas, the one Worth described as “the heavyset man in the suit,” was not part of any conspiracy to drum up outrage over the alleged attack. Then it must be the other fat one, the sound bite king who articulates black rage all over the country these days.
“Did you call the Reverend Al Sharpton before you gave this news conference?” asked Worth.
“No,” Louima replied coolly.
“Isn’t it true you saw the Reverend Al Sharpton the day before the bedside press conference?” Worth hammered.
No, Louima reiterated. He never seemed to waver. He insisted that it was Jean-Claude Laurent who had coached him, adding that he had met the man for the first time just minutes before the news conference, when Laurent told him that he was an auxiliary police officer.
“And the stranger tells you [that] you should say something about ‘Giuliani time’? ” asked Worth.
“Yes,” Louima answered.
Worth glanced at the jury of eight whites, one black, and three Latinos. No one stirred. Perhaps they had already gotten the point. (Attorney Marvyn Kornberg, who represents Volpe, had beaten the issue to death last week.) And what if Louima lied about a slogan? What does that have to do with what really happened in the early morning hours of August 9, 1997?
Worth persisted: “Did you tell your lawyers you were going to tell this lie? Did you discuss with your attorney what you were going to say?”
“No,” Louima insisted for the umpteenth time. “No, sir.”
Worth, growing impatient with Louima’s terse answers, asked again: Didn’t Thomas and his former law partners Brian Figeroux and Casilda Roper-Simpson consult with Sharpton?
Sharpton, contacted in Riverside, California, where he was arrested at a civil disobedience protest surrounding last year’s fatal police shooting of Tyisha Miller, denies that he had consulted with the lawyers about what Louima should say at the August 14 news conference. He says he met Louima for the first time that day and prayed with him in the presence of police officers, who were guarding their handcuffed prisoner.
“Stephen Worth knows this and is purposely trying to politicize this trial,” charges Sharpton, who was held at the Riverside County Jail for three hours, along with comedian Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King III. “He is acting like we used Abner Louima for our own political reasons,” Sharpton adds. “We showed Louima to be the victim that he is.”
The angry reverend challenged Worth to subpoena him to testify at the trial. “If Worth thinks that I helped plant this story, why doesn’t he subpoena me and put me under oath?”