NYPD Blues: Torture Trial Yields a Conviction

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The police brutality case that shocked New York City -- and threatened to complicate Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s bid for national office -- has come to a close with another major conviction. On Tuesday, a jury found officer Charles Schwarz guilty of beating and holding down Abner Louima, a black Haitian arrestee, as another officer violently sodomized Louima with a broomstick in a station house bathroom. That other officer, Justin Volpe, pleaded guilty to the assault last month in the face of overwhelming evidence and the corroborating testimony of four fellow officers. Schwarz and Volpe, both white, could now face life in prison.

Though three other officers were acquitted of lesser charges related to the incident, “when people take a step back,” says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen, “the entire trial will be viewed as a major victory for the prosecution: It got its top two targets and the case against Volpe was so strong he had to plead guilty.” The assessment of victory will not only be based on the outcome of the case but also on its process. “The aggressive prosecution sent out a message: Brutality will not be tolerated, it will be prosecuted, and there will be convictions. Moreover, the police's blue wall of silence can be broken.” On the political front, the convictions will take the edge off an issue that could have been used to seriously wound Mayor Giuliani’s expected candidacy for the U.S. Senate. “Although it is never great for a mayor to have such brutality go on in his police force,” says Cohen, “the convictions will back Giuliani’s contention that the system worked.”