Mar 09, 2024

It started with a mêlee outside a Haitian nightclub and ended with charges of unspeakable police brutality in a bathroom at the Brooklyn precinct once nicknamed Fort Tombstone. Talking to the cops, to investigators, and to family and supporters of the victim, Abner Louima, MARIE BRENNER examines evidence of torture so sadistic it shocked the entire nation—and touched off an urban political war

It started with a mêlee outside a Haitian nightclub and ended with charges of unspeakable police brutality in a bathroom at the Brooklyn precinct once nicknamed Fort Tombstone. Talking to the cops, to investigators, and to family and supporters of the victim, Abner Louima, MARIE BRENNER examines evidence of torture so sadistic it shocked the entire nation—and touched off an urban political war

The final arraignment in supreme court in Brooklyn was brief, 20 minutes from start to finish. All four of the indicted New York City policemen were there, but the courtroom was surprisingly empty. There was no show of solidarity for "the Plunger Cops," as the tabloids were now calling the men from the 70th Precinct, in Brooklyn, who are at the center of the Abner Louima case. When a cop is accused of a crime, the rows of seats generally fill up with men in blue. Not this time. The four cops—Justin Volpe, Thomas Wiese, Charles Schwarz, and Thomas Bruder— stood facing the judge without a single officer in uniform in the seats behind them. Wiese and Bruder had already been indicted on the latest charges. Judge Priscilla Hall asked Volpe and Schwarz for their pleas. "Not guilty," their lawyers answered.

It was September 8, exactly one month since Abner Louima, a Haitian security guard, decided to go hear his favorite band in Flatbush and wound up in a Coney Island emergency room, handcuffed to his bed, with a punctured bladder and a severed colon. In the remarkable August days that followed his decision to spend the night out at the Club Rendez-Vous with his brother and his cousin, the city had been roiled by the subsequent events at the 7-0 (Seven-Oh), as the 70th Precinct is commonly known. Although thousands of claims against police are made annually in New York, the singular nature of the alleged sadistic torture of Louima had exploded like a geyser out of the coverage in the city's tabloids.

I sat in the last row of the courtroom. From the back, the Flatbush Four had an unnerving physical resemblance. They were all big, with the thick necks of bodybuilders, straining the seams of their muted pin-striped suits. They had the oddly fancy hair of men with secret vanities—brush cuts and feathered layers, slicked-back hair helmets sculpted with mousse and gel. They spoke in the nasal cadences of the white suburbs of Nassau County and Staten Island, where three of them had grown up.

Before the court session began, Justin Volpe, the 25-year-old who stands accused of assault and of shoving an object—a stick or perhaps the handle of a toilet plunger—into the rectum of Abner Louima, was sitting close by. Carefully groomed, he resembled a pumped-up version of Alec Baldwin, but his face had an absence of emotion, as if the seriousness of his predicament had left him dazed. I had met Volpe once before, at his lawyer's office. When I greeted him in court, he smiled and said, "Thank you for speaking to me." There was no sarcasm in his tone. Later, his colleague Tom Bruder would remark on Volpe's physical appearance: "It's almost as if he's trying to look good for the cameras. It's like he wants to be a star."

I noticed that Volpe's father, Robert, a famous New York City detective known as "the Art Cop," was not in court. In his heyday, Robert Volpe had recovered Picassos and Byzantine artifacts stolen in major heists, and had inspired a book about his career. "What is most frightening is that this case has taken on a life of its own," he had told me on the day I met his son. "At this stage, his life is over." Then he cried. He knew, he acknowledged, that to the city Justin had become the Antichrist.

Another of the defendants, Charles Schwarz, a husky redhead with a flat face and a brush cut, was accompanied by his wife, his mother, and a brother in a wheelchair. Schwarz has a nasty temper and in the past he has had other complaints filed against him. The day his name broke in the press, he encountered a tweedy, middle-aged reporter on his street on Staten Island. "You're a scumbag!" Schwarz shouted at the startled newsman. Schwarz's wife, Andra, a petite woman with dark hair and a bitterness in her expression, glared at the reporters in court as if needing to defuse her rage. "She will never trust the media again," Stephen Worth, her husband's lawyer, told me.

In speaking to the judge, Worth, who often represents cops, railed against Police Commissioner Howard Safir's declaration that the Flatbush Four could not return to work before their trial. He emphasized the word "extraordinary," referring to "the extraordinary publicity this case has received" and to "the mayor's extraordinary public comments." Enraged that Rudolph Giuliani had hit the talk shows to denounce the four policemen, Worth attempted to hurl a legal spitball, implying that a witness would come forward to exonerate his client completely. The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles "Joe" Hynes, was "well aware of this person" and was keeping his information under wraps, Worth declared, and he demanded the prosecution's notes. Judge Hall was having none of it. "Make that motion in writing," she said coldly. In any event, the entire morning's legal proceedings were an empty gesture, Volpe's lawyer, Marvyn Kornberg, implied: the case was by now so huge that it would never be heard in a New York State court.

For weeks the incident had inflated like a great Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon, propelled by swarms of reporters from around the world and by the hideous allegations of the case. Zachary Carter, the Brooklyn U.S. attorney, had made it clear that he might be mounting the largest civil-rights-violation case ever against New York City. More indictments, and press conferences to announce them, could be coming, the result of an ever growing investigation by the Justice Department and the F.B.I. HERE COME THE FEDS, the New York Post bannered on August 22.

At the arraignment, Tom Bruder stood several feet apart from the other defendants. Later, he would tell me that this had been deliberate. Bruder was not as beefy as the other indicted cops and wore a gold hoop earring. "I shouldn't even have been up there," he said. "It was one of the worst days of my life." He told his lawyer, Stuart London, that he was furious with Justin Volpe for getting him involved in this mess. A few minutes before pleading not guilty, Volpe had whispered to London, "I know Tommy doesn't want to sit with me. Tell him I understand. I love him." The other Tom, Thomas Wiese, a union rep from the 70th Precinct, was, like Bruder, indicted only for assault. After they were arraigned, he and Bruder ran out quickly through the thicket of cameras lined up in the marble hall.

I followed the crowd of reporters down the wide stone steps of Brooklyn supreme court. By now there had been a stream of rallies over the case, and the tableau outside was predictable: demonstrators waved toilet plungers in the air and Haitians carried posters reading NYPD: KKK!, CLOSE DOWN THE 70TH!, and YES, MASSA! Local pols running for election tried to get in front of the news cameras for a sound bite. There was a hint of autumn in the air, leaves blowing down the Brooklyn plaza, the strong wind riffling the stiff posters, which cracked like guns.

New York City always percolates with trouble—its citizens have an abstract understanding that every day people are raped and beaten, cars are stolen, schoolkids are pushed around— but the Abner Louima case, one of the most horrifying examples of alleged police brutality in the history of New York, inspired hundreds of commentaries about corruption in the city's life. Mayor Giuliani, three months away from an election and sensing the implications of the Louima disaster, took to the airwaves. One question was raised again and again by the newsweeklies and the magazine shows: Have the drop in crime and the effective enforcement of the law in Giuliani's administration been achieved by a rogue police force?

Almost immediately, Louima ceased being an individual victim and became "a symbol of disenfranchisement," "a symbol of oppression," "a symbol of powerlessness." According to Pierre Dejean Jr., a lawyer whose family is part owner of the Club Rendez-Vous, "Abner is now a symbol of the irony of coming from the suffering of Haiti to this country, thinking that they had escaped that kind of pain, and then to be faced with what this individual went through."

However grotesque the injuries suffered by Abner Louima, the incident soon turned into a more grotesque urban morality play illustrating New Yorkers' deftness at using someone else's tragedy for personal gain. From the moment Louima wound up battered and kneeling in a cell at the 7-0, he was destined to become the focus of a war of competing agendas from which he would eventually emerge as a new power in the city, if his medical condition allowed. "Everybody is trying to make money on Abner," an acquaintance of his told me, adding, "and watch what happens. He'll probably get nothing in the end."

The Louima family gave Abner's cousin Samuel Nicolas, a handsome minister, that new American role of "family spokesman," with a cell phone and a beeper number. Nicolas soon shuttled in former president of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Bronx assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., and boxing promoter Don King, who presented Louima with a check for $5,000—all dutifully recorded by the press. Behind the scenes, a cluster of lawyers began to claw one another to cut up the reported $465 million financial pie they hoped to collect from the city in a damage suit.

There was a stampede to Louima's hospital for photo ops. The Reverend Al Sharpton, running in the Democratic primary for mayor, was the first politician to stand by Louima's catheter. Montel Williams had the first spray of come-on-my-TV-show flowers messengered in. Within weeks, Johnnie Cochran made his way to Brooklyn, and he seemed at first to be taking advantage of Louima's plight to heal his own bruised reputation.

Haitians, who have never elected a single city official, imagined using Abner Louima's case to get onto the City Council or even into Congress. Since Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes was running for re-election and was mentioned as a future possible candidate for governor, he savored the headlines praising him for the speed of his indictment of the cops. Brooklyn U.S. attorney Zachary Carter told colleagues that he was pulling out the stops for this one. With luck, he might ride it all the way to Washington and the Supreme Court.

Louima himself, in critical condition and severe pain, seemed to be orchestrating the dramas around him with aloof, koanlike statements to politicians and the occasional reporter. "If I become a symbol for change, then this will make me feel better," he told me in August. "It helps me to know that so many people of the city are with me. It helps me to be less in pain to know how many people of the city care about me. I feel the love." That weekend, Johnnie Cochran had visited Louima and delivered a copy of his book, Journey to Justice, to the injured man.

Friday, August 8, 1997. The sky was low and inky that night in Flatbush, Officer Tom Bruder recalls. It was cool for so late in the summer, and a stiff breeze was blowing off the Atlantic from Coney Island. Bruder felt the chill when he drove up to "the house"— cop talk for the precinct. He was on plainclothes patrol, working burglaries, assaults, and homicides at the 70th, off Ocean Parkway, a melancholy boulevard of Art Deco apartment houses with an allee of trees paralleling the traffic, a few miles from the beach. That night Bruder's teeth ached and he was coming down with the flu. He was tired of the lengthy commute from Long Island and had thought about calling in sick, but he was two weeks away from a new assignment in Nassau County, a 20-minute drive from his house, with a big raise and fewer responsibilities. "Hey, Sergeant, can I go home at five A.M.? I don't feel so good," he told Jeffrey Fallon, the deskman, when he arrived at "Fort Tombstone," as the cops once referred to the Victorian-era station house.

Bruder represented the new generation of New York cops, a white kid from the suburbs whose sense of the city had been forged as a tourist at an occasional Knicks game at the Garden and visits to his grandmother's house in Queens. Working the night shift, he spent his afternoons doing bench presses at a Gold's Gym on Long Island. He was 31 and had come close to marriage, but he got teased by the guys at the 7-0 about his Massapequa-mambo single-guy style— zoot suits, feathered haircut, polished combat boots.

As always, Bruder had driven his truck the hour from his mother's house in Hicksville to Flatbush, a Brooklyn district inhabited by Orthodox Jews, some of whom lived in grand houses and who had made their fortunes in diamonds or coats and suits, and by Haitians and Caribbean immigrants, who lived on the shady streets off Flatbush Avenue and Farragut Road. William Styron used this neighborhood as the setting of Sophie's Choice. The pastel brick and stucco residences of the postwar Jewish middle class now housed families from the islands making their way up in New York. Their churches—Eglise Baptiste, Eglise de Dieu—dotted the neighborhood that used to offer big movie theaters with great old New York names such as the Paramount and Loew's King. The Flatbush Avenue of Barbra Streisand, Erasmus High School, and Chinese restaurants now also had small barbershops owned by refugees from Port-au-Prince, bakeries that advertised Jamaican patties, and African bookshops. There was a saying in the neighborhood: "Hire a Haitian off the boat and soon they own the business and have another Haitian working for them."

On duty, Bruder always drove with his partner, Jimmy Hughes, but that Friday, Hughes was on vacation and Bruder was not feeling well. "Go sick," Hughes had told him. "I'm taking two days off."

Bruder said, "Nah, I need the money. I'll work."

Bruder and Hughes were the comedians of the precinct. On the radio, they were called Sleeper and Weezer. They had a ritual: egg sandwiches at the Caraville diner at Avenue M and Ocean Avenue when they took their meal break at five A.M. The guys working the midnight shift would gather there to hear Bruder and Hughes goof on the sergeant and the lieutenant on duty, and about the adventures of the night.

"You're going to have to be in the bag tonight," Sergeant Fallon told Bruder when he arrived at the 7-0. That meant he would be in uniform. He would be driving with Justin Volpe, whose partner was also out. Volpe was from a largely Italian middleclass neighborhood on Staten Island so contained it is called "the bubble." Staten Island looks more like New Jersey than a city borough. It is connected to Brooklyn by the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Many of the houses have lawn sculptures. Volpe's childhood home was not far from the mansion of mobster Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, and many cops and B-list bosses lived nearby. It is an area of the city known for a certain amount of racial intolerance; in 1986, then Staten Island borough president Ralph Lamberti's son was arrested for an attack with a hammer on a black teenager, but later cleared.

In the 7-0, Volpe had a bad reputation. Only 25 years old, he was a hotdogger who out on patrol would occasionally drive from the passenger seat, steering with his foot, according to law-enforcement sources. In his locker, he reportedly kept a collection of dreadlocks he had cut from the heads of Jamaican suspects. "Volpe does wild and crazy things, but I could work with the guy one night, two nights," Bruder says. "I'd rather drive with someone who might be a little on the edge, who I know, when it comes down to it, is going to have my back."

Volpe's older brother Damian worked the day shift at the 7-0, and like Justin he could be chesty—what cops call "a buffy"—but he was an inside man at the house, a representative in the police union and the guy you went to if you needed a problem solved.

A few days earlier, Bruder had found a black puppy near the precinct. "Let's take the dog with us," he said to Volpe as they started their shift. "I'll keep him on my lap." Their first hours were fairly quiet. Bruder, his flu worsening, watched the clock. They were driving in the sector of the precinct known as "John," which runs from Bedford Avenue to Flatbush Avenue. There was a gun run—a shooting—near Bedford Avenue and then a domestic dispute. Bruder took the dog to the door. "Why is that dog with you?" the woman said. Sergeant Michael Bellomo, also on patrol, was out on the street. "I don't feel so good," Bruder said. "Take lost time at five if nothing happens," Bellomo told him.

Three A.M. "I remember saying to Volpe, 'Thank God it's quiet. I just want to go home.'" Bruder, on the job nearly four years longer than Volpe, was expansive in the smoky darkness, whiling away the time by giving advice. "You ought to get out of here, get off patrol," he said. "Get into a detective bureau."

"I was thinking about that," said Volpe. "It might be time to make a move."

Bruder said, "I'm about to take the month off. I'm going to Nassau. Then I'll bring in another $30,000 a year for doing a quarter of the work. I'm just about to take myself off of patrol and answer phones." Turning to Volpe, he said, "The best thing you can do is get your five years on patrol and get out before you get into trouble. Patrol gets you after five years. Get the hell out. Get into a unit."

"There are so many things I think about that night that just foreshadowed what happened," Bruder later told me.

4:08 A.M. "We are on Bedford Avenue when the call comes over: 10-85 [urgent]!," Bruder continues. "The sergeant says, 'I need an 85 at the Club Rendez-Vous. We have a large dispute.' Soon as I hear 'Club Rendezvous' and 'large dispute,' I knew this would be trouble." It was Sergeant Bellomo on the radio, and he was a stickler at the precinct. Volpe began to speed. The dog jumped into the front seat. "We almost crashed into a garbage truck," says Bruder. "I remember saying, 'Whoa, Justin! Look out!' And that damn dog was all over the place."

Volpe and Bruder were familiar with the Rendez-Vous, a Haitian dance club on Flatbush Avenue between Farragut and Glenwood Roads across from a naval recruiting office. On weekends Haitian medical technicians, D.J.'s, and secretaries put on their flashiest outfits—tube dresses with spaghetti straps, leather vests, Armani shirts—and gathered at the Rendezvous. Friday night was usually a huge party with the Phantoms, a well-known band that played compas, or Haitian pop. The atmosphere was raffish, and from time to time ex-members of the Tontons Macoutes, the sinister secret police of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, would start trouble. The music began late—near midnight—and when the club shut down, at three A.M., the crowd would surge out onto the street. That night Abner Louima was at the party with his brother, Jonas, and their cousin Herold Nicolas, a local pastor's son. The three men left the club together.

"We pulled up in the middle of the street. There are 200 people all over," Bruder recalls. Some were calm, but some were "going wild. And that is when I saw the naked woman. She had whipped her dress over her head. ... It was getting pulled off in a fight, and I think she was, like, 'Forget it!"'

According to witnesses, one woman was screaming at another, "Bouzin! Kite neg moin!" ("Slut! Leave my man alone!"). Creole speakers describe the sharp, staccato punch you have to give the language, a combination of French, Spanish, English, and African. Even in normal conversation, it has an aggressive ring. Although Bruder and Volpe had worked in Flatbush for several years, they were unaware of these nuances and believed that the crowd was ready to explode. "These people get so emotional," Bruder says. He and his partner, Jimmy Hughes, would repeat a standard joke before diving into a brawl: Let's sit back and wait for the gunshots. Bruder believed, he says, that there were always guns at the Rendez-Vous, although there was a metal detector at the door. "In the last year, I have responded to a bouncer being shot, two doormen shot, one of their security dogs shot. Shots inside the place, two people shot out front. There is a lot of violence there.

"Jimmy and I always watch each other's backs," he says. "Unfortunately, this night I was not with my partner. We both get out of the car. I see it is a wild scene and I tell Volpe, 'Do me a favor. Go back and make sure that the dog doesn't get snatched out of the car.' That is when we got separated."

Bruder recalls shouting at the crowd to clear the street. "One girl said to me, 'This is a free country. I will stand where I want.' I said, 'This is a free country, but you can't stand where you want. I am giving you a lawful order to leave.'"

Bruder lost sight of Volpe, who was somewhere in the middle of the crowd. "It is wild," he says. "I hear a commotion. I look over my left shoulder, and Volpe is in a fight with Abner Louima."

Did he see Abner Louima take a swing at Volpe?

"Absolutely," Bruder says. "It was Louima."

"I didn't punch nobody," Louima later said.

Teddy Petion, a respiratory therapist who often works at Harlem Hospital, was standing next to Louima at the time. "It wasn't Abner who threw a punch at the cop," he says. "It happened so fast. Abner went in to break up a fight between two girls. He took out his security badge from his job. . . . Abner and one of the officers began arguing, and Abner said, 'I'm going to get your badge number.' Wiese yelled, 'Let's get him!' and hit Abner on the head. Another Haitian threw a punch at one of the other cops and made a run for it. Then I saw seven or eight cops jump on Abner. One put his foot on his back, and one put his knee on his neck."

Bruder registered Louima's appearance: "He was well dressed. He had on a vest with his skin exposed. He had a good stomach and good abs. I notice these things."

Suddenly, Bruder saw a green sanitation truck move down Flatbush Avenue through the crowd. "I remember the driver's face. It was, like, 'Oh my God.' . . . Louima and Volpe both roll into the truck. Then they both roll off and the truck stops. I'm, like, 'Let's go! Move!' This is when Louima pushes Volpe and I see Volpe spinning. And then Volpe goes down. And Louima breaks. Then I hear the sound of cops running. And I don't know where they are running. The truck blocks my view. I immediately think they are chasing someone with a gun. I don't know if it's Louima or a whole new character. I start running with them. Volpe comes into the chase with me. He is ahead of me."

Bruder grabbed his radio: "Ten-13 [emergency]! Foot pursuit! A large fight. Send the 6-3 [a neighboring precinct]."

"Now I have eight guys and 200 people out there. And I'm thinking, We are going to get killed. They are going to take our guns."

Bruder recalls trying to get to Volpe and seeing another man run "a body-block interference" against his partner. Later the man would be identified by Bruder and Volpe as Patrick Antoine, a Haitian immigrant, although Antoine insists that he was nowhere near there then.

"It is chaos," Bruder continues. "The other sector car pulls up and says, 'What have we got? What have we got?' I say, 'We have an assault on P.O.'s,' and I am trying to describe Louima. People are scattering. I somehow meet up with Volpe and I say, 'Volpe, are you O.K.?' 'I got punched in the head,' he says."

Another call on the radio: "We are holding one. Possibly the guy who assaulted Volpe." Apparently the voices were those of Tom Wiese and Charles Schwarz, who had picked up Louima.

Wiese, a karate black belt, was the fixer, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (P.B.A.) delegate of the midnight shift. He was engaged to an African-American who was a cop; they had a five-year-old son. Wiese "is one of the most highly decorated officers" in Brooklyn South, according to his lawyer, Joe Tacopina. Wiese's partner, Schwarz—"not the sharpest knife in the drawer," in the words of one investigator—had picked up Louima on Farragut Road, handcuffed him, and thrown him into the back of their patrol car. Bruder told Wiese, "We'll be right over, Tommy. Justin can ID him and see if it's the right guy."

"We go from the front of the club, get in the car, make a right on Glenwood, and they are there," Bruder continues. "The flashers are on. They are not hiding. They are in the middle of the street—Glenwood and Bedford. I pull up. Tommy and Chuckie Schwarz are outside the car. I see a guy in the backseat, handcuffed. Volpe gets out. Maybe 20 or 30 seconds, tops. Speaks to Tommy and Chuckie. Looks in the car, comes back. Gets in the car. That's the guy. I have never even gotten out of the car! I have the dog on my lap! I am on the radio. They are trying to raise us. They say, 'Was there another guy involved?' They say they are holding another guy on Farragut. I say, 'We are coming right now.'

"I go around the corner—about 20 seconds. There are a million cops in the street. One cop is holding on to Antoine. His hands are behind his back. We say, 'That's the guy. He's good to go.'"

From the car, Patrick Antoine spotted a Brooklyn political activist. "Why can't you do something about this?" he called out to him, shaken. "I was powerless," the activist later told me. He said that he often went to the Rendez-Vous on Fridays, and that he was wary of Justin Volpe, who, he told me, was frequently outside the club. Antoine's face was swollen, and the left side was cut. (Antoine's lawyer denies that such an encounter took place.)

What happened next, from Binder's point of view: "We go back to the house. No secret. There are no parks. No little hiding places. No detours. Someone was asking, 'Where are you?' I said, 'I'm going back to the house.'"

In the shadowland that cops and "perps" inhabit, there is always a detailed narrative for every event, including the most minor arrest. Police cadets are told that you have to have an explanation. Why did you make that collar? What is your evidence?

The Mollen Commission, the 1992 city forum that investigated police corruption, popularized a word for the testimony of certain cops, particularly in high-crime areas: "Testilying."

Bruder has his version of what happened in Brooklyn in the early morning hours of August 9. His account differs from that of Abner Louima, and a significant aspect has been disputed by D.A. Charles Hynes. Hynes, once the special prosecutor in the Howard Beach affair, a 1987 murder case motivated by racism, has a shock of silver hair and the deep, mellifluous voice of a courtroom orator.

After Louima was arrested, Schwarz and Wiese drove him back to the 70th Precinct. According to Hynes, "The patrol car heads for the 7-0. It enters a section of Glenwood Road. It looks like a forest at night. There is a railroad cut." Hynes has lived in Flatbush his entire life. "It is not the way I would go to the 7-0. I wondered what they had in mind. They pulled over to a very secluded part of Glenwood Road. Louima said they began to punch him, and soon they were joined by two other police officers. Louima claims that all four are beating him. He is hit by a very hard object. He identifies this as a police radio. The beating stops for some reason. They drive on. A few minutes later they pull over again and there is a second beating."

Was Tom Bruder in the forest? Louima cannot specifically identify him, but he alleges that all four officers beat him in the car. Did he confuse four fists with eight fists? Bruder denies knowing how Louima sustained his injuries. "Tommy Wiese is a black belt. Chuckie Schwarz is a six-foot-two former Marine. Volpe is no small cake. Do you think that four guys with rage in their heart would not have landed a bruise on Louima? They would kill this guy ... I swear to God on my dead father's grave, I witnessed no assault on Louima that night."

Dennis Hawkins, the Brooklyn deputy district attorney, has his own theory to explain why Louima was not externally bruised: "He was lying on the floor of the car. They were outside the car.

How could they have had that kind of impact? The victim said all four officers struck him."

According to Bruder, "I walk into the house. Louima is already at the desk being checked. I walk past him. Volpe is behind him. Wiese says, 'Do you want to take the collar?' Volpe walks up: 'I want the collar.'" Volpe was reportedly "irate," and he and Wiese argued at the desk; Wiese had never liked Volpe. Meanwhile, Bruder recalls, he was looking at the clock. "I knew I was never going to get out of there by five A.M."

Louima stood in front of the high desk of Sergeant Fallon, who could not see below Louima's shoulders. Checking for drugs, Wiese and Schwarz had removed Louima's belt from his black trousers, which slid several inches below his hips. Later, Louima would assert that his pants had been pulled down, but investigators close to the case believe that is untrue. They say that without a belt his loose pants inched down on their own.

At that moment, Bruder says, he was preoccupied. "The dog is following me everywhere. Then the dog goes to the bathroom in front of the rest room. Everyone is yelling. They all say, 'What's this dogshit?' I mop it up."

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him, Bruder claims. Schwarz was at the desk doing paperwork; Volpe had arranged to go to the hospital to have a cut on his head tended to.

As Bruder walked toward the juvenile room to start his paperwork, he says, he noticed Volpe and Wiese walking toward the holding pen with Abner Louima. Suddenly Volpe and Louima turned right, toward the bathroom. "The last thing I see is Volpe with Louima entering the bathroom, and Wiese is behind them—the dog is under Wiese's feet. And Wiese is bending down: 'Come here, pup.'" Bruder insists that Charles Schwarz was nowhere near the bathroom at that time.

Another cop, Eric Turetzky, would later say that it was Schwarz who escorted Louima to the bathroom. "He made a mistake," Bruder told me. Wiese and Schwarz vaguely resemble each other from the rear. "They've got the wrong guy."

The public bathroom at the 7-0 was filthy, according to one investigator. It was never cleaned, and feces had hardened on the walls, a clear indication of the lack of respect shown to the accused, the investigator said.

Once inside, according to a senior law-enforcement source, Justin Volpe appeared to snap mentally. What allegedly happened to Abner Louima represented an almost unimaginable display of psychosexual criminality. Sweating profusely, Volpe, according to this account, was in a murderous rage, a symptom of possible steroid use. If the allegations are correct, there was an indication that he entered the bathroom with specific intent. Just before he closed the door, he met another cop, Mark Schofield, in the hall. He asked to borrow his black leather gloves and he put them on. Schofield would later come forward and give his story to investigators. Inside the bathroom, according to the source, Volpe seized a wooden handle, screamed "Fucking Haitian" at Louima, and slammed him up against the wall.

"Schwarz freaked out," according to the senior investigator. "He fell apart when he saw Volpe throw Louima against the wall. He ran for Tommy Wiese to try to calm him down." Wiese, as the inside P.B.A. man of the night shift, was considered the diplomat of the 7-0, with power over Volpe. Schwarz ran back into the bathroom, but, according to the investigator, Volpe had already penetrated Louima's rectum with the handle or stick.

According to Louima, "They threw me to the ground and start beating me up. And then one of them—there was two of them—one pick up something on the floor. I don't know what it is, but it looked like a plunger to me, and just, you know, push it on my ass, and then it came out with shit and blood. . . . They put it in my mouth. He said that's my shit."

"He was rubbing shit all over Louima's ass, and he had his head shoved up against the wall," the investigator said. Wiese screamed for him to stop. It was at that moment that Volpe is alleged to have shoved the handle into Louima's mouth. Louima later told investigators that he was attacked with a toilet plunger, but, according to Bruder, "I'd never seen a plunger in the house. The toilet was constantly broken." Earlier he had mentioned that the plunger was kept locked up. There were, he said, many mops and brooms stored in the public bathroom.

According to Louima, "I tried screaming. I screamed. . . . When they take me to the bathroom, there were other officers around—they don't do anything. They don't try to rescue me. . . . [Volpe] said lots of things. He said, 'Nigger, have to respect us. This is Giuliani, this is not Dinkins time.' "

When Volpe returned the gloves to Schofield, they were wet and soiled. "What is this?" Schofield allegedly asked him. "Nothing. Just wash them off." Schofield washed his gloves and placed them on top of his locker; they have since been removed for DNA testing.

Bruder was sitting in an office approximately 20 feet from the bathroom. "I heard people walking around in the 7-0," he says. "Nothing else."

Bruder had paperwork to do: names, dates, "pedigree stuff" for the collar. He took a camera to the cell to photograph Louima and Patrick Antoine. "When I walked into the cell, Louima was handcuffed and kneeling," he says. Louima's black pants were down, and there was no sign of blood, except for a cut over his eye. Bruder felt sorry for him, he says, and took the handcuffs off him. "He went overboard thanking me, which I thought was weird. He could have been bleeding like a pig. You wouldn't have seen anything on those pants. It stinks terribly in that cell, and it is a dirty, nasty place."

According to a law-enforcement source, "there were feces on Louima." Louima's sphincter was torn, which would have resulted in a loss of bowel control, in the opinion of Dr. Charles Gerson, an attending gastroenterologist at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Later, Louima would say of his initial silence, "He [Volpe] tell me if I talk to anyone about what he done to me, he'll kill me, and he'll kill everyone in my family."

Bruder had to voucher Louima's possessions, and in one pocket he says he found a flyer for a male revue at the Rendez-Vous. "I threw it away. I didn't even voucher it. That was really dumb," he admits. "The next thing I know Internal Affairs is at my job . . . saying the Feds were going to destroy me unless I cooperated. . . . Then I was arrested."

Within a week of the brawl outside the Rendez-Vous, Bruder, Volpe, Wiese, and Schwarz would be in virtual seclusion, silenced by their lawyers. In Hicksville, Bruder stayed at friends' houses in order to avoid the news vans camped on his block; he dodged calls from Dateline NBC, Barbara Walters, and Larry King. Bruder insists that he has no idea what happened in the bathroom; he says he cannot imagine that the accusations against Justin Volpe are true. He continues to mention flyers he saw of a male revue at the Rendez-Vous.

"How does the stick get into the bathroom?" I ask Bruder. He says, "I told you. I mopped up crap from the dog. I put that mop next to the bathroom door."

Before Bruder left the 7-0 at 7:50 A.M., he says, he noticed that Abner Louima was racked with pain and holding his stomach. He took him out of the filthy cell, discovered his missing shoe in the hallway, and found him a chair while he waited for a cop to accompany Louima and Emergency Medical Services (E.M.S.) personnel to a hospital. Volpe walked by and saw Louima. "What the hell is he doing there?" Volpe said, according to someone close to the investigation. "Then he threw him back into the cell."

The ambulance carrying Louima arrived at Coney Island Hospital at approximately 8:30 A.M. One of the E.M.S. attendants would later say that he had seen no blood.

For hours at the emergency room, Louima remained unattended, handcuffed to his bed, charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, and third-degree assault. "Nobody say nothing!" recalled Andre Laurent, the husband of the emergency-room nurse Magalie Laurent. "My wife started work at 3:30 in the afternoon. Nobody told her until 10 minutes to seven that night." He said that a Jamaican nurse working on duty from seven A.M. to seven P.M. said to his wife, "You know what happened to someone from your country?"

Magalie Laurent, a woman with a lilting Haitian accent, worked 12-hour shifts in the Coney Island emergency room, and she moonlights at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Her husband, like the husbands of several of the nurses, works for the police. Andre Laurent is an auxiliary police officer at Brooklyn's 6-1. Community residents have theorized that, although Kings County Hospital is close to the 7-0 and has a good emergency room, many victims of police brutality are taken to Coney Island Hospital, which lacks a trauma unit, because the nurses there who are married to police officers are likely to be unsympathetic to brutality claims.

Louima was guarded by officers from the 7-0, who told the Jamaican nurse that he had been injured in a homosexual episode. Another nurse claims the officers asked her to write this on her report. When Louima was finally taken to the operating room that afternoon, surgeons discovered that his colon had been punctured and his bladder torn. "I know you are Haitian. You should know what happened," the Jamaican nurse told Magalie Laurent. "You musn't keep it a secret. We must let everybody know."

Just before seven P.M., Magalie Laurent went to Louima's bed. "What I saw was an innocent person in distress," she told me. He was unable to speak, he had severe internal injuries, and he had had a large section of his colon removed. Tubes were coming out of his body, but he was being guarded by two officers from the 70th Precinct. Laurent went to a pay phone and called her husband. He told me that she whispered into the telephone, " 'The cops got somebody and they used the stick in his butt.' ... I said, 'I don't believe cops did that.' I said, 'I know the commissioner and the mayor . . . they're good guys, [but] they're not on the street.'" Laurent counseled his wife to call Internal Affairs.

At 7:45 P.M., Magalie Laurent says she dialed the Internal Affairs Bureau, which monitors corruption within the Police Department. The bureau has strict procedures; each call must be recorded and forwarded to the district attorney's office, and if it is a case involving alleged criminal brutality, the I.A.B. is obliged to contact the D.A.'s office immediately. Neither of these procedures was followed on the night of August 9. Later, Police Commissioner Howard Safir acknowledged that the call had been handled improperly; the detective who answered the telephone was inexperienced and never made an official record of the call.

Magalie Laurent, frightened that she would lose her job, identified herself as Mrs. Louima—the wife of Abner. The deskman at Internal Affairs asked "Mrs. Louima" for her home address and telephone number. She did not know the answer, so she hung up. "I told him I would get back to him," she told me. Upset, she called her husband to tell him what had happened. "That is when my husband—he is a big part of this story, too—called Internal Affairs."

Magalie Laurent insists that there was a second call to Internal Affairs on Saturday night, made by her husband. "He stayed on the phone that night with those people from Internal Affairs," Magalie says. "As soon as I called, he called. He spoke to them and told them everything again. ... He ordered them to have the 7-0 removed from the hospital. . . . My husband said, 'This is not fair. We told you what happened at the 7-0. It is not fair to have these men watching him there.' . . . And the next day they sent the 6-0."

I asked Magalie Laurent if she believed Internal Affairs took her husband's call seriously, since it has never been acknowledged by the Police Department. "I think my husband's call was more elaborate. He stayed on the phone for longer than I did. . . . But still, his call was not the one that sent them." I asked Laurent if her husband had identified himself as an employee of the New York City Police Department. "I think he did," she told me. "My husband stayed on the phone with these people for more than half an hour." Did they make a record of his call? "I don't think they did," she said. Later, when I brought up her claims to the police commissioner, he was elliptical: "When things are finally revealed, you will find that a lot of what has been reported is not true."

It was almost midnight when I spoke with Laurent at her Brooklyn home. She had just returned from a shift at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and sounded frightened and tired; she ended the conversation abruptly. "I'll talk to you another time," she said. The next day I phoned her, and she said that she could not speak about what happened in the second call. "I should not have said anything," she said.

Louima's lawyers claim that Safir has attempted to downplay the ineptitude of Internal Affairs, which is a bureau of the N.Y.P.D. Safir did not know about the incident until Sunday night. "I didn't get a confirmation until Monday, because Louima was sedated," he told me. Safir began his career at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the precursor to the D.E.A., and climbed through its ranks. He was the nephew of the Brooklyn cop who arrested the bank robber Willie Sutton. "I was probably one of the few Jews who did both undercover work and rose in the hierarchy," he said. As the number-three man of the U.S. Marshals Service, Safir revamped a moribund agency and supervised the discovery of Josef Mengele's body. He is not afraid to make enemies. "The [precinct] supervisor obviously did not have a handle on what was going on among some of his troops," he said of the Louima case. "When I removed the supervisor and everybody else at the precinct, I did it out of an abundance of caution. . . . This is aberrant behavior by one, maybe four or five cops who are guilty of misconduct." Within 10 days, all charges against Louima and Antoine had been dropped.

"My wife is so scared that she cannot even go to work," Andre Laurent told me recently. "I call everybody! I tried to get in touch with Internal Affairs and the mayor." Magalie implied that her husband was afraid of possible reprisal by the Police Department or the loss of his job. Six weeks after she made her call to Internal Affairs, another emergency room nurse shoved her to the floor and punched her in the chest, according to The New York Times. "She was yelling, 'You messed with the wrong people. You messed with the N.Y.P.D.'" (Later, federal investigators would question parts of Magalie Laurent's account.)

However helpless Abner Louima may have appeared to the cops at the 7-0, his Haitian accent camouflaged one of the supreme ironies of his case: within the closed Haitian community of Brooklyn, Louima's family had plenty of levers to pull on his and their own behalf.

Abner Louima's uncle Philius Nicolas is called "the patriarch" in his community for a reason. A Pentecostal reverend, Nicolas is a canny dispenser of patronage for newly arrived Haitian immigrants. When Pastor Nicolas came to New York in 1965, he made $1.25 an hour working in a factory, although he had been a minister and a building contractor in Haiti. He was not a political refugee—"I never had a problem with the Tontons Macoutes," he says.

With his children in Haiti, Nicolas had only a sister in New York—Abner Louima's aunt. He went to school during the day and worked nights, and on weekends started an evangelical group which ultimately became his church. Within three years he owned a $17,000 house on Prospect Place, and in 1972 he graduated from the New York Theological Seminary. By the following year he had hundreds of followers who viewed him as the gatekeeper to jobs and apartments. When his son Samuel arrived in New York, he had to schedule appointments to see his father. "The only day we had together was Sunday afternoon," Pastor Nicolas told me. "Then I went back to sleep to go to work."

As Haitians, the Nicolases had never experienced racism until they moved to Brooklyn. Samuel and his brother Herold attended a predominantly white junior high school. "They called us 'nigger,' 'Kunta Kinte'—whatever they saw on TV." Herold recalled that neighborhood kids even ran up their driveway with baseball bats, yelling, "Nigger, I'll catch you!"

With his gray beard, hooded eyes, and thick island accent, Pastor Nicolas does not seem a conventional power broker. You can walk the three-block perimeter of his world in minutes. He is pastor of the Croisade Evangelique, a modest, beige building next to a parking lot with buses in it on 31st Street and Farragut Place, four blocks from the Club Rendezvous. On a nearby corner is the family radio station, Bonne Nouvelles, a five-room space in a building with graffiti and signs for evangelical meetings on the door. The Haitian D.J.'s broadcast from desk chairs that have torn leatherette upholstery, and there are inspirational Creole calendars on the wall. The shabby surroundings are deceptive, however. The power of radio and political music for Haitians compares to that of an op-ed page for others. Many small villages in Haiti have their own radio stations, and Haitians, with one of the highest illiteracy rates in North America, depend on radio for news. Pastor Nicolas's church now has 1,500 active members, including politicians, professionals, and Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian selected by Granta as one of the best young American writers. "At one time we had 8 to 10 buses at the church every morning loading Haitians to go to New Jersey to do factory work," Nicolas said.

Haitians tend to be insular. In Brooklyn high schools, they are called "Frenchies" and start their own political clubs. Upper-class Haitians—many of whom have become doctors, pharmacists, and real-estate agents—do not allow their families to speak Creole at home because of its class implications.

During the 1980 boat-refugee crisis, when thousands of Haitians were attempting to flee their country, the pastor shuttled hundreds of them through the church. They slept on cots while Nicolas spun his Rolodex and found them jobs and apartments; then he opened the church to hundreds more. In Washington, as associate attorney general in 1982, Giuliani kept nearly 2,000 of the fleeing Haitians in detention camps in Miami, which has caused his actions in the Louima case to be distrusted by the community. In 1990, in a move to fight the spread of AIDS, the Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from all immigrants from Haiti, where heterosexual contact was a major form of transmission. Haitian leaders protested, and Pastor Nicolas helped to organize a march in New York.

Since the administration of Ed Koch, Samuel Nicolas has worked for the city, reviewing contracts for city agencies. Koch was always sensitive to the Haitian population. "Koch reached out to our community," Samuel said. It took 11 years for the Federal Communications Commission to approve the Nicolas family's application for the Bonne Nouvelles radio signal, which transmits to parts of Queens, most of Brooklyn, and Asbury Park, New Jersey, where there is a large Haitian community. All together, in the tri-state area, there are about 1 million Haitians, a potentially huge power base.

The pastor's ambitions are not wielded with much subtlety. Once when I was interviewing him about the family, his son Samuel shut the office door. "The church needs a new roof," Samuel said. "Didn't you see the way the water poured in during the rain when they were taping Nightline . . . Do you know any people in Manhattan who could help us? Could you buy a table at our November benefit at the Holiday Inn near Kennedy airport?"

The pastor was also quite adept at pulling levers for his own family; he has brought about 50 relatives to America from Haiti since 1968. Abner Louima was one of the most recent arrivals; he came to New York after receiving an electrical-engineering degree in Port-au-Prince. He was pro-democracy and an acquaintance of former president Aristide's. The pastor had little knowledge of his nephew when he arrived in New York, but he put him to work driving one of the church buses carrying factory workers to Long Island. Louima had left a baby daughter behind in Haiti, but he promptly started studying to become an American citizen. The pastor saw in his nephew a high level of ambition. "He drove a limo for a while and had three jobs," he said. The pastor's son Herold, who works for the radio station, was particularly close to his cousin. "I am his compere," he told me. "It's a relationship like a godfather." Herold was his cousin's best man when he married Micheline, another young Haitian immigrant, whom Abner had met at a birthday party in Queens. They have a year-old baby, Abner junior.

On Saturday, August 9, Pastor Nicolas was at his house in Uniondale, Long Island, not far from Tom Bruder's neighborhood, when his sister, Abner's mother, called him crying, "Abner has been assassinated by the police!" She was in hysterics, and repeated the word "assassinate" again and again.

The family of Pierre Dejean Sr. had never heard of the Louima family until the weekend of August 9, when the brawl on Flatbush Avenue brought them together and threatened to destroy much of the progress they had made in America. Dejean owns a body shop in Brooklyn and is a partner in the Club Rendezvous; he has climbed into the solid middle class. The Haitian community has an expression: "Make the money in Brooklyn and move to Long Island." Dejean lives in Westbury, Long Island, in a spacious ranch house with a swimming pool. When Frank Sinatra performed at the nearby Westbury Music Fair, Dejean's friends parked in his driveway. Dejean's son, Pierre junior, a polished young lawyer, works in a city agency as an equal-opportunity employment analyst.

The Dejean family has owned the Rendez-Vous for almost a decade. It began as the Senegal Manor, a large restaurant that attracted politicians and middle-class Haitians for lunches of akra and Creole chicken. Dejean senior once owned several buildings in Brooklyn, but he lost them in the real-estate recession of the 1980s. He took in a partner and changed the Senegal to the Club Rendezvous, opening it on weekends for dinner and dancing.

Friday night at the Rendez-Vous is a ritual that begins in the leafy glades of middle-class Jamaica Estates at the condominium of King Kino, the star of the Phantoms. It was King Kino's sweet Creole sound, bluesy and as political as the reggae of Bob Marley, that drew Abner Louima to the Rendez-Vous on August 9. "This guy is one of my biggest fans," Kino told me. In his own way, Kino too is a power broker, but his connections are to former president Aristide. When he flies to Port-au-Prince to give a concert, 12,000 attend. Kino's searing ballads are the editorials of his fans. From his hit song "Haiti Cowboy": "I remember when I was a kid. . . . There was never justice or freedom unless you were part of the [Tontons Macoutes] regime / At sunset was the curfew. ... So they could go around and steal."

By eight P.M., Kino has chosen his wardrobe, usually a white pleated Versace silk shirt and white pants from the Gap. For performances, he often ties back his blond-tipped dreads. His crocodile shoes are selected by his mother, and a friend picks up his beige Rolls-Royce, which he is paying off at $1,200 a month. A fixture of Flatbush Avenue, Kino holds court at his record store, Phantom International, a few doors down from the Rendez-Vous. It is a storefront with a sofa and a glass case of the Phantoms' CDs, as well as recordings by other Haitian stars. Kino, whose mother, Soeur (Sister) Rosette, was a minister on a midwestern tent-revival circuit, sells 30,000 CDs a year in the Caribbean.

When Kino came to Brooklyn in the mid-70s, he was known by his real name, Pierre Divers. He was hired by Erasmus High School to counsel troubled Haitian teenagers, and there he met the drummer and the bass-guitar player who would eventually join the Phantoms. His first political ballad, "Sa Fe Mai" (That Hurts), was a stinging expose of the plight of political prisoners at the hands of the Haitian army and the Tontons Macoutes. It was 1986. Kino was 24 and wore his hair in a Mohawk, very Flatbush, but he had the No. 1 hit on Radio Metropole, a major station in Port-au-Prince.

At the same time in Port-au-Prince, Abner Louima was in engineering school. Aristide was the dean and a well-known opponent of Baby Doc Duvalier, and had inspired Louima with his passion for democratic rule in Haiti. Louima listened to "Sa Fe Mai" on the radio and later told Kino, "I could not imagine who could stand up to the army like this." Louima was determined to go to America, but visa restrictions were severe. His mother in New York had applied for him to leave Haiti, but he had yet to be cleared. Soon after he arrived, he learned that King Kino could be found at his Flatbush Avenue record store. It was 1991 by then, and Kino had had more hits, including "Haiti Cowboy," one of his biggest singles, which counseled "the mothers of Haiti to take to the streets."

"He used to come to the store all the time," Kino told me. "He would ask me about Aristide, about Rene Preval, the new president of Haiti, and we would talk about how to improve conditions." Abner was gregarious and religious, Kino recalled, and trying to make his way in a new society.

As Kino drove through the brawl at three A.M. on August 9, he says, he saw "cops everywhere hitting Haitians, yelling, 'Fucking Haitians. Dumb fucking Haitians.' We saw Abner get taken away, and when I did, I thought, We will go to the precinct in the morning and get him out."

At 7:20 A.M. on Saturday morning, Pierre Dejean Sr.'s telephone rang at his home in Westbury. "This is Captain Walsh at the 7-0. I need to see you right away." The tone was brusque. Dejean thought there must have been a fire or some other disaster. "I want to see you by noon. Do not disappoint me."

Dejean arrived at his club at 12:30 P.M. to find his partners, Mr. and Mrs. Prosper Jean Philip, visibly shaken by an unpleasant encounter they had just had with the 7-0. Sergeant Bellomo, who had been on patrol the night before, had accompanied William Walsh. They had demanded identification and had written out a summons, citing "disorderly premise." They had given the time as 4:07 A.M. When the partners later told them that the club had closed at three A.M., according to Dejean, the captain and the sergeant ignored them. "Walsh said, 'I had four of my cops injured by you people.' ... He never said anything about the incident!" Later the F.B.I. would reportedly focus on Walsh's summons as part of a possible cover-up of the activities of the 7-0.

Early Monday morning, Brian Figeroux arrived at his small law office across from Brooklyn supreme court. Figeroux and his partner, Carl Thomas, were hustling to make their rent by filling out tax returns and green-card applications. On the single desk in the outer office, there are flyers and cards telling you to call if you get in trouble or are hassled by the police. Thomas and Figeroux met in college and later worked for the Brooklyn district attorney. Figeroux, who grew up in Trinidad, is tall and lanky with Eurasian eyes that often narrow at real or imagined racial slights. Thomas, with the proportions of a fullback, has a less incendiary manner, but shares Figeroux's politics. It was in fact their brooding diatribes about "the system" that would lead them to be in the catbird seat and within reach of a possible windfall of tens of millions of dollars in lawyers' fees.

Figeroux once taught a course called Blacks and the Law at Brooklyn College, and he speaks in testy hyperbole. "Mr. Louima wants this to go all the way . . . the reason why he wants the entire 70th Precinct to fall is because of the system of fear, not mutual respect, that they are using in our community!" he told me the day I met him. "We are looking for attempted-murder charges! They have 700 I.A. officers. They should be fired!"

On Monday, August 11, Figeroux was in his office when he was beeped by a former student. The student's sister's boyfriend was Jonas Louima, Abner's younger brother. The family was desperate. All they knew was that Abner was gravely wounded, that he was under arrest, and that he was being guarded at Coney Island Hospital. The day before, Jonas had talked to the desk sergeant at the 7-0. "I told him my brother was arrested, and I would like to file a complaint because they prevented us from seeing him in the hospital." Herold, who was with him at the time, later told Nightline's Ted Koppel, "The desk sergeant . . . told several other police officers, and they all started watching us and smirking, sneering at us. And he did not come out to the desk for about 15 minutes. When he came back, he totally disregarded us and he said, 'Next.' . . . [Another] police officer said, 'You can't file a complaint here. You have to go home.'" Micheline had been shuttled from the hospital to the precinct to get a permit to see her husband, which was denied her. She finally saw him only after reappearing at the hospital and becoming hysterical, at which point a hospital administrator let her in.

When Figeroux heard what had happened to Louima, he raced from his office and arrived at the hospital in the early afternoon. "The first thing I said to Abner was that he was safe now," Figeroux says. "I let him know that someone was here who was going to take care of things. . . . Tears were in my eyes. And when I spoke to my partner ... I said we had to praise the Lord that he was alive." There was, he said, already an ominous sign of the factions that would soon be at war over Louima's case. "There are two sides of the family in this case," Figeroux told me. "The poor side is for political change—that's Abner and Micheline. But they have no real power. And then there is the rich side: Pastor Nicolas and Samuel."

In the hours after the incident, the rich side of the family had not been idle. When Figeroux arrived at Abner's bedside, there was already "a bloodsucker" from a personal-injury law firm there to sign up Louima, who was still handcuffed to the bed. "They weren't even concerned with the guy's safety," Figeroux said.

In fact, Pastor Nicolas had mobilized quickly with the help of two powerful friends—Dr. Jean Claude Compas, the head of a local clinic, and Tatiana Wah, the daughter of a Haitian painter and a graduate of Brown University, who runs a political lobbying group called the Haitian American Alliance. Nicolas recalled saying, "This is an outrage! What has happened to my nephew? We cannot let this be."

At the same time, Herold Nicolas rallied a Brooklyn lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, whose vast plaintiffs' business is connected to 1-800-LAWYERS, a marketing system which advertises on TV and specializes in personal-injury claims. Rubenstein, who grew up in a project with friends named Bubbles and Eustice, he told me, had begun his career working out of a small storefront in Bedford-Stuyvesant and eventually expanded to a suite of offices decorated with headlines of his triumphs: 7 MILLION FOR 2 BURNED IN LIRR YARD; MOTORCYCLIST HIT BY MILK TRUCK WINS $23 MILLION; $25 MILLION FOR 2 TOTS KILLED UNDER TRUCK.

Rubenstein would later call it "a coincidence" when he discovered that his friend Dr. Compas was already involved in the case. In a city of odd alliances, Compas and Rubenstein were a particularly unlikely pair, but they had partied in Haiti and shuffled business each other's way—and they soon would attempt to run Louima's case. Educated in France, Compas is a handsome smoothy, but he treats many Haitian immigrants at his bustling clinic free of charge. He advertises his clinic on the local Haitian radio, including the Nicolases' station, and he is affiliated with Brooklyn Hospital. The diminutive and cunning Rubenstein drives through Brooklyn in a black stretch limo with crystal decanters in its bar. He is a man with inside information who wears expensive suits, but he has the personal style of a hammer. Reporters would later mimic Rubenstein in his interviews: "Go! Go! Enough! What's in it for me? This is a movement, not a case! It's bashert that this case came to me! That's Yiddish for 'my destiny'! Bashert! I'm not answering that! NO ONE is seeing Abner! I've erected walls around him!"

The potential for a bonanza through Rubenstein's operation is well known in the Haitian community; he raised money for Aristide, advertised on Haitian radio, once collected $1.5 million for a Haitian cabdriver shot by the police, and has done legal work for the pastor. Many members of his staff come from the islands; they man the phones, hearing complaints at "intake." (It's a pothole! ... Who hit you? ... Have you filed for workmen's comp?) Often his clients must sign a third-of-the-score contingency agreement before he will take them on. By the time he arrived, Figeroux says, Rubenstein had dispatched a young associate to Louima's bed with the paperwork. "Don't let the guard stop you," Rubenstein had told him.

Meanwhile, at the office of the Haitian American Alliance, Tatiana Wah worked her contacts all day and got nowhere. She and her callers were told to "write a letter" by the Daily News and the Post. Finally someone called a local all-news channel, NY1 News. "We'll send someone to check it out," the assignment editor said. He did not sound enthusiastic. Wah had one friend who was a journalist, Garry Pierre-Pierre, a Haitian-American reporter for The New York Times. Pierre-Pierre was out on a story. "Call me, it's urgent," Wah told his answering machine.

Friends tease New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary about his tough-guy, ersatz-Brooklyn-cop act, but he has an astringent tabloid prose style and police contacts his competitors envy. At 7:55 P.M. on August 11, a man left the following message on McAlary's voice mail:

You don't know me, but I'm calling because in the 7-0 Precinct in Brooklyn on August the 9th at about 0400 hours a—the cops there sodomized a prisoner. They took a nightstick and shoved it up his behind and into his bladder. The patient is currently at Coney Island Hospital. His name is—his last name is L-O-U-I-M-A. . . . Now they are trying to cover it up because it was two white officers and they did this to a black guy that they had locked up for disorderly conduct, and now they're charging him with Assault 2. . . . I won't call you back anymore.

McAlary believed he was hearing the authentic voice of a desperate and courageous cop. Driving in from his house on Long Island the next day, he ran some checks on the name Louima—"standard Journalism 101 stuff," he told me—and headed directly to Coney Island Hospital. There, he met Brian Figeroux, Micheline Louima, and Abner's parents.

The group found a freight elevator—the passenger elevator was broken—and went straight to intensive care. "There was a cop on the door, and he nodded at me and let me in," says McAlary. "Either that cop was the dumbest cop of all time or he wanted people to know.

"It was one of the first times Louima had seen his family . . . and he started to cry. . . . They closed the curtain around us. And 40 minutes later, as we were leaving, an administrator was scurrying down the hall to throw us out. 'Who's in there? McAlary? We can't have this!' she said."

From his car, McAlary called his editor. "Clear the decks," he announced.

Four hours after the message was left for McAlary, Tom Bruder was coming onto his shift. He had already been tipped by Tom Wiese "that there was trouble on his Friday collar." "What are you talking about?" Bruder asked. He had a sick feeling in his stomach, he says. Wiese's call had been made at five A.M., and his voice was strained with urgency, Bruder later told me, but he insisted that Wiese had given him no details. When he got to the 7-0, he says, "Internal Affairs was all over the building." He looked down the vast corridor of his life and saw it caving in around him. He was two weeks away from his transfer to Nassau County and that huge raise. Speaking for the first time about the case, Bruder came to see me with his lawyer, Stuart London. That day, he says, he had called his partner, Jimmy Hughes. "Jimmy, you are not going to believe this," Bruder said. "I am not going to Nassau. There is an investigation, and I am in the middle of it."

By Tuesday afternoon, the news van from NY1 was on its way to Coney Island Hospital for the five P.M. live feed, but it ran into trouble on the Belt Parkway. Nevertheless, the reporter, Aram Roston, broke the story on the seven o'clock news. By six P.M., Garry PierrePierre of The New York Times had phoned Tatiana Wah back and was on a conference call with Pastor Nicolas. He later dictated the facts he had gathered to the night rewrite person.

Not until seven P.M. did the telephone ring in Mayor Giuliani's white security van. It was the police commissioner. Safir said, "We have a serious problem." The mayor was attending his son Andrew's Little League game. He went home and "remained on the phone for the next three or four hours," he told Ted Koppel. The Times debated where to run the story, placing it not on page one but as the lead above the fold in the Metro section.

On Wednesday morning, Tom Bruder saw the mob of cameras at the 7-0 and left the precinct by the back door. McAlary's piece was on the front page of the News with a picture of a wan Abner Louima in his hospital bed and a banner headline: TORTURED BY COPS. "I could not read it," Bruder says. "I kept saying, 'What are they talking about?' I was silent the whole day. It was like, What? If this truly happened in the bathroom, then this is a sick thing and no one would be silent about it."

The Internal Affairs squad was opening every locker at the 7-0. Volpe's dreadlock collection had reportedly been spirited away by his pals. Behind one set of lockers, the squad discovered a mop handle and had it sent out to the crime lab. The P.B.A. reps had also landed, and had imposed the 48-hour right to silence that is in their union contract. They met with Volpe, Bruder, Schwarz, and Wiese and told them in no uncertain terms that they would need lawyers. According to Bruder, Volpe's brother Damian was also present, acting as the policemen's representative. Bruder, said one senior investigator, appeared stunned, and stared at Justin Volpe when he said, "I am going to ride this out. It was a gay thing that happened at the club. We will ride this out."

That afternoon, when Bruder appeared at the RB.A. attorneys' office to meet his lawyer, Stuart London, he was sobbing. "He could not walk into the conference room," London says. Two officers from Internal Affairs had gone to Bruder's door and taken his badge and gun. The atmosphere at the P.B.A. was ominous. Thomas Wiese's lawyer called Internal Affairs to say that Wiese would give a statement. "We don't want to talk to him until Friday," he was told. It took until Sunday to interview him. Wiese insisted that his partner, Charles Schwarz, had been nowhere near the bathroom. At the time, Wiese was completely unaware that Eric Turetzky had come forward and confirmed the identification of Charles Schwarz to the Brooklyn D.A. "I'm too upset to eat," Turetzky had told his mother, who urged him to go forward and "do the right thing." As he walked out of the precinct house, one P.B.A. delegate approached him. "What the hell are you doing?" the delegate asked.

"You know very well what I'm doing," Turetzky said.

The next morning, Wiese failed the lie detector test and was indicted, but his lawyer says he passed a second.

It is a paradox in the N.Y.P.D. under Howard Safir and Rudy Giuliani that while there is zero tolerance for crime, there may not be zero tolerance for police crime—particularly brutality. A wink and a nod are given to hundreds of cases on a yearly basis. According to the comptroller's statistics, the number of brutality claims has more than doubled in the last 10 years, from 1,229 in 1987 to 2,735 between 1996 and 1997. The city has a method of dealing with such charges: it pays. In the last year, $27.3 million was paid out to settle claims, up from $19.5 million the previous year. With rare exceptions, the accused officers were not penalized. According to the Times, personal-injury claims against the Police Department have skyrocketed, climbing 80 percent during the past decade. This is due in part to an enlarged police force and the fact that there are more policemen on the streets, as well as to the weakness of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (C.C.R.B.), which rarely substantiates complaints. Although the number of complaints rose dramatically during Giuliani's administration, it went down 21 percent during the first five months of this year. In the previous administration of David Dinkins, the bar had been raised on acceptable criminal activities. Low-level drug dealers were not aggressively prosecuted, and in the case of the 1991 riot in Crown Heights, the mob was not quelled for four days. Giuliani created a different atmosphere. He hired as his police commissioner the innovative William Bratton and lowered the bar on criminal activities.

Are all these claims legitimate? The police complain that there are no civil or criminal penalties for filing a false claim. Still, the situation in New York, as in many other cities, is severe. In 1996, Amnesty International issued a searing report stating that there was a pattern of alleged abuse by the N.Y.P.D., particularly in high-crime precincts with large minority populations.

For many, the allegation of defiling Abner Louima's rectum with a stick was an aberration with intense sexual implications. "The most brutal cops I know are disgusted by the thought of touching a prisoner's rectum," said one police expert. "They might beat the shit out of someone and leave them for dead in a field, but they wouldn't dream of getting near their private parts." According to Earl Caldwell, an African-American reporter hired by the Times in 1967, "When you strip a man of his clothing and another man is holding him, there is something sexual being activated. This thing between black men and white cops is as old as the hills. It is not written about or talked about in the white press, but it sure is on the black side of town. ... I know of white cops who pull guns on black cops to keep them silent when they see this kind of thing."

Caldwell, a specialist in police brutality, recalls how, in 1970, Philadelphia's police commissioner, Frank Rizzo, proudly dismissed the public outcry over a news photo of Black Panthers stripped naked on the street after a raid by his cops. "That was the first case like this that got national attention," Caldwell says. "To me, there is the ultimate question: Is this degradation or wish fulfillment?" Caldwell has said he was fired by the Daily News in 1994, when a column he wrote about a police officer accused of raping five black livery drivers was pulled by his editor. The News said Caldwell resigned.

"Most men are homophobic," Herold Nicolas told me. "To even think about what happened to Abner. A man's organ is four to nine inches and that stick was two feet long."

Samuel Nicolas said, "I've heard that several cops routinely ask young black guys to spread their cheeks. I don't know if this means they're homosexual, but if you castrate a man, it's a way of taking away his dignity."

Even the most compelling brutality cases are difficult to prosecute. The C.C.R.B. is characterized as ineffectual even by its supporters—only 1 percent of the recent complaints have reportedly led to disciplinary action. In court, the cases are often "shitcanned," in the parlance of the district attorney, meaning they are thrown out of court or receive a lesser charge.

When Nicole Marcano, an honors graduate of an elite women's college in Trinidad, came to America in 1989, she worked as a legal secretary in New York. Her boyfriend, Brian Benjamin-Benn, owned a Brooklyn body shop. One evening in 1992, she rode with him to deliver a Nissan Pathfinder to a customer. Two police cars from the 71st Precinct, in Crown Heights, followed them into the driveway of the house where they were taking the car. The officers questioned the ownership of the vehicle, even though Benjamin-Benn told them it was a repair job. "Every time he tried to explain, they pushed him against the gate with such force that he was hitting his head," Marcano says. When she protested, she claims, one police officer, John Pirozzi, smashed her in the face, knocking her unconscious. She was handcuffed and thrown into the backseat of the patrol car. She alleged that, when she came to, Pirozzi smacked her and said, "That's what happens when you assault a police officer, you little black bitch." Blood was pouring down her face, and she fainted.

When she told them she was a legal secretary, "they just scoffed, 'So, big deal,' " Marcano said. The routine delivery became a New York nightmare: Marcano wound up in Central Booking with a broken jaw, a missing tooth, and a face swollen to twice its normal size. "I was scared out of my mind," she told me. Twenty-four hours later, when she and Benjamin-Benn finally saw a night-court judge, Pirozzi had issued "a whole bunch of charges"—14 in all. The charges were dismissed, and after Marcano filed a complaint with the C.C.R.B., the Brooklyn D.A.'s office filed criminal charges against Pirozzi. The case was prosecuted vigorously, but the judge, Thaddeus Owens, an African-American, inexplicably set the jury's guilty verdict of aggravated harassment aside, saying he did not "believe [the defendant] did it because she was black." The conviction was later reinstated on appeal.

Ironically, the lawyer for John Pirozzi, Stuart London, now represents Tom Bruder. He also represented Francis Livoti, an officer acquitted of but fired for killing a Bronx man, Anthony Baez, with an illegal choke hold. London, once a Bronx assistant district attorney, describes the gauze around the allegations of police brutality as "a gray area." "There's an altercation. Someone hits the cop, the cop uses reasonable force, then you look at the injuries and try to figure out what happened," he says. London does not believe that Marcano is a credible witness.

A more recent case which might involve Tom Bruder has as yet been unreported. In July, two weeks before Abner Louima was injured, 25-year-old Nicola Fyff went to the movies with her boyfriend, Bernard Golson. Fyff and Golson were in a late-model Jaguar with Fyff's two small children and were stopped allegedly for speeding on Coney Island Avenue. Fyff, an African-American who then worked in Manhattan as a cosmetician for Vidal Sassoon, insisted that they were under the speed limit, but the white cops said they had clocked them at 80 miles per hour. Golson did not have his driver's license, but he did have identification and the proper registration, which the cops, according to Fyff, did not ask to see. One policeman, in plain clothes, refused to show his own ID, Fyff claims, and said angrily, "Either get out of the car or I will break your fucking window." One of the cops also allegedly called Fyff "a fucking bitch" and threatened to take her children away. Later, Golson was charged with "disorderly conduct" but not with speeding. Fyff, according to her attorney John Lonuzzi, had never been arrested before.

When Fyff became hysterical at the 7-0, she was told by the deskman to leave. Tom Bruder had just arrived on the midnight shift. "He began physically pushing me out of the precinct," she says. "He said, like, 'Get the hell out.'" On the steps with her two children, she recalls, he lost his temper.

"He was, like, 'Get the fuck off the stairs.' He was out of control. He said, 'You are fucking trespassing!'" Then Fyff noticed the plainclothesman who had arrested her boyfriend leaving the precinct for the night. She ran over to write down his license-plate number. "Bruder sees this and says, 'Fuck this shit!,'" Fyff claims. "He comes to me, pushes us . . . and says, 'What are you going to do? Find his house and shoot him?'" Within minutes, she was handcuffed to a pole and threatened with the loss of her children. She was later taken to a hospital to have her arm X-rayed, but she had no visible sign of serious injuries.

"The doctor basically said to her, 'Get out of here. You are a liar,' " says Bruder, who remembered her immediately and was offhand about the incident. Bruder and his partner, Jimmy Hughes, were at the 7-0 when she returned. "They said, 'Nicola, you're an animal and animals belong in a cage.' They're playing this little game. I was handcuffed and they were walking back and forth in the hall. I said to my boyfriend, who was being held in the next room, 'Do you hear what they are saying to me?' He says, 'Just forget it. Don't pay attention.'"

Bruder vehemently denies Fyff's accusations. "She better have a lot of people who back that up. . . . She is jumping on the bandwagon."

Like Nicole Marcano, Fyff was taken to Central Booking and placed in a cell with "crackheads and the worst kind of people," she says. "I was ready to go crazy. I needed to see my kids. I am in for almost 24 hours." When she went before the judge, she had been charged with "threatening to burn the precinct down" and "kicking a cop in the stomach." Bruder told me that Fyff was "going crazy. . . . She stood outside and wrote down a cop's license number and was saying, 'I'll get your m.f.-ing family.' I said, 'You can't do that.' " Bruder was unaware that he is potentially facing another set of charges for assault, false imprisonment, and unlawful arrest. John Lonuzzi intends to bring a suit against the city, Hughes, and Bruder.

According to David Durk, the Police Department whistle-blower who helped persuade Frank Serpico to come forward in 1966, "Nothing has changed. Everything is the way it was when Serpico and I were cops. When I was at the Police Academy, I was given a formal lecture on how to take a bribe. [I was] taught how to give beatings without leaving marks. There is a level of hypocrisy and cynicism that is just mind-boggling. . . . There are all kinds of arcane things you could do. The specialty of the Suffolk department was great. They put telephone books on people's heads and used pipes to give them concussions, and, of course, there were no marks."

On August 19, the day I met Justin Volpe, his picture was on the front page of the New York Post with the headline BRAGGART: 'NO ONE JUMPS ME AND GETS AWAY WITH IT.' The paper was on display in the deli downstairs from the office of Marvyn Kornberg, the shrewd and antic trial lawyer known as "the King of Queens Boulevard." In Kornberg's office the phones were ringing constantly as Kornberg slyly negotiated with the callers: "I've heard from everyone— Nightline, CBS, the News, the Post. Geraldo called and—this is the best—he said, 'Maybe Justin will come on and we'll pay for treatment.' He's got a setup where he pays for treatment for people? Can you believe this wackjob?"

Kornberg had invited me to his office to meet Robert Volpe, Justin's father. "You only get 45 minutes," he said. When I arrived, Justin was in the room. "I am not allowed to stay," he said sheepishly. Although Volpe's pictures made him look like a Mob tough, in this setting he was soft-spoken and well mannered. He wore a sweater and chinos and filled the doorframe as he lingered for a few moments with his father. Meanwhile, Kornberg shouted into the phone, "Forget it, Mary! Don't bring that Nightline crew here!"

Robert Volpe wore cowboy boots and a trendy blazer, and had his hair in a small ponytail. He told me, "I think I am going to wake up and this [trial] isn't going to be necessary. It just does not compute. ... I will never believe it. People will use the word 'denial,' but it is so beyond what Justin is. . . . If you were in trouble, you would want Justin, because he cares."

"The only one who talks to Justin is Mike McAlary," Kornberg informed me roughly. McAlary had reported another scoop in the previous day's paper: that Justin Volpe had had a long relationship with an African-American woman named Susan, who worked as an aide in the 7-0. Was Kornberg trying to stop the Volpe-as-racist spin attached to the case? How could anyone think that Justin Volpe hated Haitians if he was involved with a black woman? According to Robert Volpe, the woman spent a lot of time on Staten Island with the family. Although Robert Volpe insists that he always encouraged racial tolerance, he also recalls that, the first time he met Susan, she and Justin had stopped by on their way home from the beach. "I smiled and made some comment about how the sun must have been hot today."

At the hospital, Abner Louima told McAlary that as Justin Volpe beat him he said, "All they [blacks] know how to do is make photocopies." As an aide at the 7-0, Susan had duties that included making photocopies. "I can't explain it," McAlary later said, "but a lot of slave owners had black mistresses." After Susan spoke to McAlary, she was silenced by Kornberg. "I am not going to make Susan the black Mary Jo Buttafuoco," he told me. Kornberg's former client Joey Buttafuoco, accused of plotting with his teenage mistress, Amy Fisher, to murder his wife, had enlisted Mary Jo as his denial chorus.

At St. Joseph By-the-Sea, a parochial school on Staten Island, Volpe had had a reserved manner. He was "gorgeous," one friend recalled, and another remembered him as "the sweetest" of the three Volpe brothers. His mother taught art at the school, and the Volpe house was filled with paintings. At times Justin seemed intimidated by his two older brothers, especially Damian, who was determined to be a cop. Justin had an affectionate relationship with the priest who ran the school, who "was always giving him noogies," according to a former girlfriend of Damian's. "I can't believe you're a cop," she told Justin when she ran into him in the city. "Well, you gotta do what your dad does," Volpe told her.

The homosexual tilt Volpe immediately put on Louima's injuries has caused several psychiatrists to theorize that this was a form of wish fulfillment. Volpe told McAlary that the incident had happened in the bathroom in the Rendez-Vous, alluding to the cop alibi that the Rendezvous was a gay club—a tough story to sell, since hundreds of partygoers had gone there to hear King Kino that night. "Being gay is something that is severely frowned upon in the Caribbean," Herold Nicolas has said. Moreover, how could a man who had suffered such internal injuries then punch out a beefy cop on the street? Tom Bruder attempted to back Volpe up on this. "I'm pretty sure they said he was drunk," Bruder said. "You never know what people do when they have a couple drinks in them."

I asked Komberg to speculate about his client. "If he did it, he did it because he was affronted by getting beaten up on the street. If he did it."

I then asked, "Would he have snapped?"

Komberg replied, "Of course, of course. If he did it."

Some people have suggested that Volpe took steroids, which might account for his inexplicable rage. Bruder doesn't think so. "Volpe did not even like to work out that much," he says.

Volpe operated from a precinct with a history of trouble. Many of the cops of the 7-0 call themselves "the Laws of Flatbush," and in 1996 the precinct had 64 civilian complaints filed against it, one of the highest numbers in the city. The most controversial of the cops of the 7-0 was Anthony Abbate, a P.B.A. delegate once accused of insulting a black cop. When Abbate was dismissed, he had 30 civilian complaints filed against him, and it was said that Volpe supported him. Damian Volpe later held Abbate's position in the P.B.A.

There is speculation that the same grandiosity that can cause a police officer to rush heroically without thinking into a dangerous situation can lead him to ignore his interior censor and commit brutal acts. One month before Volpe was involved in the Louima incident he ran into a burning building. On the morning of August 9, when Volpe returned home, his father remembers going to hug him. "Justin pulled back. His head was swollen. 'It was a rough night,' he said."

The day his son was indicted, Robert Volpe waited outside the courthouse in his car. Marvyn Kornberg had told his client, "Walk with your head up high." Justin Volpe's tight-lipped manner was later characterized as a swagger, but when he rejoined his father, he quickly slammed the door to shut out the photographers while Kornberg said, "Let's get the fuck out of here." Robert Volpe has no illusions. He does not believe his son can get a fair trial, and he decries the atmosphere. "I've seen murderers walk out. I've seen child-molesters. Do they hate policemen so much?" he says.

Johnnie Cochran's role in the Abner Louima case was initiated on the cell phone of a car speeding down the Belt Parkway toward Brooklyn Hospital, to which Louima had been transferred. It was August 21. That morning Louima had asked King Kino to visit him at the hospital, and Kino stopped by his record store to pick up some of Abner's favorite tapes.

"These lawyers do not know what they are doing," Kino told me in the car. "They mumble. You cannot even understand them on TV. I don't know why Abner doesn't get Percy Sutton or Johnnie Cochran in this case. All this conflict! It seems like they are amateurs! This does not send the right message to the world about the Haitians! We are not stupid people!"

From the first days of the case, "the three musketeers," as one wag named Sanford Rubenstein, Brian Figeroux, and Carl Thomas, had been warring openly. On Wednesday, August 13, Mayor Giuliani had appeared at Pastor Nicolas's church for a meeting. The atmosphere was charged—N.Y.P.D. helicopters buzzed the roof to ensure security—but the pastor was conciliatory; perhaps his potential connections to City Hall were too valuable to put at risk.

Figeroux and Thomas used the occasion to attack Giuliani for saying that the Louima assault was an isolated incident. Because of Giuliani's allegedly anti-Haitian policies when he was at the Justice Department in the early 1980s, Figeroux and Thomas were openly hostile, even though Pastor Nicolas, whatever his private feelings, did not want to antagonize the mayor.

At the end of the meeting, Dr. Jean Claude Compas arrived with Sanford Rubenstein. At that moment, Figeroux says, he knew that a deal was being cut between Rubenstein and the pastor. "I think you're an obsequious piece of shit!" Carl Thomas told Rubenstein, The Village Voice later reported. "You're a bloodsucker! You only pimp off our community!" In a private meeting with the pastor, he yelled, "White guys did this to Abner! Why would you bring in a white guy?" The answer was evident to several people close to the case, but not to Carl Thomas: the pastor had reportedly been offered a piece of his nephew's settlement, although Samuel Nicolas denies it.

"We do not have a contract," he says. "As far as I know, Abner can move to Kalamazoo with his money. I am on the phone all the time with the lawyers, and I'm always telling Mr. Rubenstein I am sending him a bill, and he just laughs. They're getting rich, and I'm going to wind up still in Brooklyn."

On one occasion, I sat with Brian Figeroux in his office. "Abner has no power," he told me. "He and Micheline want Carl and me as his lawyers, but his uncle controls everything because he has the money." The telephone rang. It was Abner Louima at the hospital. He was aggrieved because Rubenstein was putting pressure on him to sign the one-third contingency agreement, Figeroux said. "Did you sign anything, Abner?"

Figeroux made another trip to Brooklyn Hospital, and in the car he worried about being muscled out of the case by Rubenstein. "It is all about money where this family is concerned," he said. "We shook hands on a 50-50 deal. It's a diseased family as far as his family goes. They expect the city will pay about $30 to $50 million. There are so many lawyers that are better than Rubenstein! From the beginning I wanted to talk to Johnnie Cochran about doing the case! I am up and down. I want to write a book about this."

It was obvious to King Kino that something had to be done. With the instincts of the true inside player, Kino had come to believe that the war within the legal team would harm Abner Louima, and would do nothing to elevate his case into a larger forum on the nature of police brutality in New York. "They would settle for $50 million just to be done with it," Kino told me as we drove. Originally, Rubenstein had filed a $55 million claim against the city for Louima. "The city has a moral obligation to declare its liability right now" and move directly to deciding damages, he declared in a press conference the next day. He planned also to file for punitive damages for a reported $465 million. It was this strategy that had annoyed Kino. "What will that do to make things better for the Haitians? . . . This is not a case for a lawyer who does advertising! This is a community issue! These guys don't even know how to speak on TV! They are just looking for promotion!"

"Who could be a better lawyer for Abner, Percy Sutton or Johnnie Cochran?" Kino asked. Would the potential arrival of Johnnie Cochran signal to the white power structure that this was a race case? Would Abner Louima lose the sympathetic spin that had so far been untainted by race rhetoric? Would Cochran turn a win-win situation into a negative? In the car, Kino thought out loud: "Whites hate Johnnie Cochran because of the O. J. Simpson case, but he is a brilliant lawyer. He takes this case to another level. . . . This is not just about the Haitians. This is a case where bad is bad, good is good, white or black. This has nothing to do with O. J. Simpson. Everyone suffers from these cops! You need a Johnnie Cochran to get this on the world stage." Kino was outraged that Justin Volpe and Marvyn Kornberg and the other cops were suggesting that the Rendez-Vous was a gay club. "This is not a gay party and I am not gay, and that makes me angry!" he said. He worried that he would lose concert bookings because of the brawl outside the club. From the car phone, Kino called his manager, Janie Washington. "You have to find me Johnnie Cochran on the telephone. I am going to introduce him to this family."

For a week after the incident, Tom Bruder was in hiding. His picture flashed constantly on the news. Finally he decided to venture out and lift weights at his local gym in Syosset. "You're not going to believe what happened," he told me. "A homeless man walks up. He looks at me and says, 'I know you. You're that cop in the paper. You're the one from Hicksville. You're one of those plunger guys.' "

During the following weekend, Kino called me. "I finally found Cochran," he said. "I called California, and a rich friend of mine connected me to him. And I talked to him. I told him I did not like the way the other lawyers were handling the case. And he said, All right, if you would like me to handle the case, I will do it.' And while he was talking to Sam [Nicolas], I said, 'I am going to hang up. I do not want to know the details.' And Johnnie said, 'Thanks, Kino, for putting me on the case.' " Kino laughed. "I am going to write a book about this case too! And I am calling my book The Man Backstage."

Samuel Nicolas, the family spokesman, finally came into his own at an immense rally in Brooklyn on the Friday before Labor Day. Nicolas, a pastor-to-be, had at times seemed overwhelmed by the attention brought on by the police attack on his cousin. He felt off his moorings, at the mercy of cell phones and screaming lawyers. He frequently answered questions with "I will have to check with my father." But of all the family, Samuel was the most eloquent on-camera. A graduate of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, one of only a few Haitians, he had his own ambitions. Samuel took to the airwaves of Bonne Nouvelles, calling on the community for a show of solidarity for Abner. "They tried to murder him," he said repeatedly. "It is possible my cousin will never regain the use of his intestine or his bladder."

The day before the rally, I had met him at a TV taping for a local ABC Sunday news show. In the greenroom, Samuel looked stricken. Abner had taken a severe turn for the worse; he would need emergency surgery for a blockage of his intestine.

Before the taping, Samuel had called Jean Claude Compas, Abner's doctor. In the studio, Carl Thomas and Brian Figeroux were angry. Why was Abner in Brooklyn Hospital when New York City had the finest teaching hospitals in America? Columbia-Presbyterian, Mount Sinai, and New York Hospital all had world-famous gastroenterologists. Later, outside Brooklyn Hospital, Figeroux asked me, "Why is Abner here? It is because of Dr. Compas. Why hasn't he been moved into the city?" Figeroux's implication was clear: Compas and Rubenstein were allied, once again, against "the poor side."

Later that day, Samuel and I drove to the church to wait for Louis Farrakhan, who was arriving for a private meeting with Pastor Nicolas to discuss the Louima case.

"Johnnie Cochran comes with a lot of baggage," Carl Thomas told Sam Nicolas in the car. "Whites hate Johnnie Cochran. . . . We are small-town lawyers. We think we are as good as Johnnie Cochran. But nobody knows us! There are so many agendas in this case! This has gotten a lot bigger than Abner getting beat up."

Sam, quiet and intense, was not buying. "Abner wants Johnnie Cochran in the case," he said. "Why didn't you tell me in the beginning about Johnnie Cochran? We never would have brought him in." Turning to Thomas, he asked, "Why did you scream at my father that day in the church? Now he'll never listen to you."

"I lost my temper," Carl Thomas said. "My own father used to tell me that I shouldn't scream at him."

At the church, we spent several hours waiting for Farrakhan, but only several of his ministers appeared.

August 29, 1997. They had gathered at Grand Army Plaza by 9:30 A.M., by the thousands, to march for Abner Louima. David Dinkins, the former mayor, was there, dressed in white. The Reverend Al Sharpton marched on the front line with his arm around Sandy Rubenstein. "Brother Rubenstein," Sharpton said when he greeted him. "Brother Sharpton!," Rubenstein said to the mayoral hopeful. Sam had his arms around his brothers Herold and Kelly, and even Pastor Nicolas walked the first mile or so. I marched directly behind Sam and Herold. As the crowd surged forward, we linked arms with strangers so that we would not fall down.

"NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!" The roar followed us down Flatbush Avenue, which had been closed to traffic. Outside Brooklyn Hospital, the crowd stopped to say a silent prayer for Louima, who was too sick even to watch the rally on TV.

By the time we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, gentle Samuel Nicolas had his clenched fist in the air. All around him, thousands of Haitians waved posters and plungers in the direction of the mayor's office, "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!" he screamed. Then he mounted the steps to a podium outside City Hall and shouted, "WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A MAN WHO REFUSED TO DIE! A MAN WHO REFUSED TO BE A STATISTIC! HOW MANY MORE ISOLATED INCIDENTS DO WE NEED?"

I made one last trip to Flatbush. It was the first Friday night in October, almost two months since Abner Louima had had his night out at the Rendez-Vous. He was still marooned at Brooklyn Hospital, but in 10 days he would be out, secluded in a Canarsie apartment rented through a friend of Micheline's, resting between operations. Louima's health was extremely fragile. In addition to his perforated colon, he had developed deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot that was potentially life-threatening. His family would continue its campaign to have the U.S. attorney general take over the case. "We need Janet Reno," Carl Thomas would say. "We're asking her and the Justice Department to look into patterns and practices of police brutality." There was talk that Zachary Carter would expand the indictments to include supervisors, and subpoenas have been issued indicating that the investigation has proceeded to the grand-jury stage.

King Kino had left a message on my machine: "It is Johnnie Cochran's birthday, and I am throwing him a big party at the club." Kino would be sending his driver with the Rolls to pick up Cochran and members of the Dream Team at midnight and deliver them for cake and champagne at the Rendez-Vous. After all the fighting, the lawyers had finally cut up the pie. "They are splitting one-third of the settlement three ways," said Samuel Nicolas. The party would signal to Flatbush not only Cochran's arrival into Abner Louima's case but also Kino's ascension as a secret power in the city of odd alliances.

On my way to the club, I made a stop at the 7-0. It was peaceful inside the precinct, and the new commander, Inspector Raymond Diaz, stood behind the high desk where Louima had been brought on that Saturday morning in August. Diaz's predecessor, Jeremiah Quinlan, had been transferred, even though he had been on vacation when Louima was allegedly brutalized at the station house. "My first few days were rough," Inspector Diaz said. "All the demonstrations. But we have been working with the community." With its cracked blue walls and turn-of-the-century architectural detail, the interior of the precinct had the bare elegance of an Edward Hopper painting. I went with Diaz to the notorious public bathroom. Porcelain latrines were lined up on one wall, where Louima alleges he was attacked. Diaz and I studied the narrow space. "It is still filthy in there," he said. "But, for that matter, so is our bathroom upstairs." He said that Justin Volpe's brother Damian had asked for a transfer, and no longer worked at the 7-0. Susan, Justin's girlfriend, had also left. "We are getting back to normal," he told me.

I arrived at the Rendez-Vous after midnight. Kino, Pierre Dejean, Jean Claude Compas, and Sandy Rubenstein were waiting for Cochran to appear. A velvet rope separated the V.I.P. section at the rear of the club from the rest of the partygoers. Behind it, a blue-and-white birthday cake decorated each table, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, J.C., one read.

At one A.M., Johnnie Cochran posed grandly at the door of the Club RendezVous, then passed the metal detector and the bouncers in black T-shirts with SECURITY printed on them. Cochran has mastered the art of keeping his head slightly above any crowd; his lack of direct eye contact is one of the power tricks he uses to ensure that he is the focus of everyone's attention. As always, he was accompanied by a minion, in this instance Peter Neufeld, one of his brains from the O. J. Simpson trial, who carried a battered, bulging leather attache case.

Cochran had his investigators with him. One burly fellow wore a black leather jacket with a large red-white-and-blue X embroidered on the back. The group took seats at a table near Kino's band and posed for pictures by the stage. In Creole and English, Kino exhorted the club patrons to sing "'Happy Birthday' to Johnnie Cochran, a great man of our community." Cochran was toasted with Korbel champagne and a single bottle of Dom Perignon, which someone had brought in a brown paper bag. Sandy Rubenstein and Jean Claude Compas wedged through the crowd to congratulate him, and by two A.M. the V.I.P. area was filled with many of the key players in the Abner Louima drama, including Tatiana Wah of the Haitian American Alliance and even Garry Pierre-Pierre of The New York Times. From the stage, Kino introduced them all and praised Cochran for taking on the case. Then Cochran took the stage.

Flatbush seemed an unlikely setting for Johnnie Cochran, but he appeared to understand that helping the Haitian community might serve to rehabilitate him too. "We are going to get justice for the community," he said to immense applause. He used the word "healing" and repeated the need for justice. Kino had given Cochran the chance to show his skills in behalf of a hapless victim, not an alleged killer. Even Sandy Rubenstein joined in the universal enthusiasm over Cochran's arrival on the scene. "What do you mean, Cochran plays the race card?" he snapped. "He had to do that with the O. J. Simpson case to win. You do anything as a lawyer to win. There is no race card here."

I waited for Cochran to say something moving about the plight of his new client, but he left the stage with just a faint single mention of Abner Louima's name.

HERE COME THE FEDS,NYPD: KKK!, CLOSE DOWN THE 70TH!, YES, MASSA!. H bashertBashert!NO ONE(It's a pothole! ... Who hit you? ... Have you filed for workmen's comp?)..L-O-U-I-M-A. . . . TORTURED BY COPS.A BRAGGART: 'NO ONE JUMPS ME AND GETS AWAY WITH IT.' AHAPPY BIRTHDAY, J.C., , SECURITYevery article