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Brutality cases take the luster off NYPD

70th

2 more Haitians say they were beaten by police

August 20, 1997
Web posted at: 9:39 p.m. EDT (0139 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The glow of New York's dropping crime rate lost more luster Wednesday as a second Haitian man accused police of beating him.

Meanwhile, Newsday reported Wednesday that a third Haitian man plans to sue the city over allegations that police officers broke his leg in a confrontation in June.

City officials announced Wednesday that the command of the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn -- where the alleged attacks took place -- has been replaced in an efforts to improve relations between the police and minorities.


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CNN's Peg Tyre reports.

Attorney Alan Abramson said his client, Patrick Antoine, was arrested in the early hours of August 9 along with Abner Louima, whose recent charges of police brutality have led to the indictment of four New York police officers.

cops

Abramson said Antoine was walking past a nightclub where a scuffle was going on between police and club patrons. Antoine claims police officer Justin Volpe, one of same officers indicted for the attack on Louima, attacked him.

"As he was walking he was set upon by Volpe and other members of the 70th Precinct," Abramson said. "They punched and kicked him and gave him a deep gash over his eye."

Louima, a 30-year-old security guard with no criminal record, said he was trying to break up the fight between two women outside the club when police arrived. He said they yelled racial slurs at him and later beat him. Then they took him to the precinct station house, where he said he was beaten again and the wooden handle of a toilet plunger was shoved into his rectum and then into his mouth.

Louima is still hospitalized with a tear in his colon and a laceration to his bladder. He requires a catheter and a colostomy bag to pass urine.

Four police officers from the 70th Precinct station have been charged in the case and 13 other officers have been reassigned.

Antoine may also sue the city

Volpe

Abramson said Antoine, a 36-year-old food service industry worker, may sue the city. Louima and his wife Michelen have already filed a $55 million suit against the city.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney said "it was undetermined how to proceed" in the charge by Antoine against officer Volpe. Charges against both Louima and Antoine were dismissed.

Clearing out the station's command is the city's latest effort to show that it is serious about cracking down on brutality. But there are many in the community who want to know what took the city so long.

Rights group cited NYPD brutality last year

Representatives of the black, Hispanic and Asian communities have charged that police abuses have increased in recent years as city crime has dropped to its lowest level in a generation.

Louima

Their claims follow a report issued last year by Amnesty International which charged that police brutality in the New York Police Department was systemic and unchecked.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced Tuesday the formation of a $15 million panel of media figures and community activists to meet with police and address the brutality issue.

"I think this is an opportunity to build mutual respect and trust and mutual accountability among police and the community," says Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

The city has a board to review claims of brutality, but its members say it is underfinanced, understaffed and virtually ignored by the police and the city.

"Police officers view us as a toothless organization," said Earl Ward of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. "And I think it says to a police officer, 'You can conduct any abusive conduct you want to conduct with impunity.'"

Some cities use monitors

Some experts say that outside monitors are the key to reducing police brutality.

Ward

"In order for any sort of outside monitor to work, there has to be some commitment at the top to cooperate and work with that group," says Barbara Price, a police brutality expert.

Cities like San Jose, California, allow the police to investigate brutality complaints, but also employ an auditor to monitor and review the investigations.

"We eliminate the 'us versus them' feeling that often exists between civilian police oversight and the police department," says Teresa Guerrero-Daley, an independent police auditor in San Jose.

Such innovations have yet to reach New York, which is just coming to grips with brutality. Whether it can change the culture in the nation's largest police force remains to be seen.

One thing is clear, however: the Louima case, the media attention it has received, and the prospects of losing a $55 million lawsuit seem to have gotten the city's attention.

Correspondent Peg Tyre and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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