During his May 4 endorsement for Mayor by Abner Louima, a reporter asked Eric Adams how he had gotten the backing of the victim of one of the ugliest incidents of brutality in the NYPD's history despite not being one of the candidates who had called for defunding the department over the past year.
"My activism," the Brooklyn Borough President replied, "began on the floor of the 103rd Precinct" when he was a "15-year-old baby" who had been take into custody. "I was kicked repeatedly in my groin, urinated blood for a week," he told reporters gathered in City Hall Park. "Those bruises made me, but the scars remain forever."
'Brought Back Memories'
Slightly more than 20 years later, 13 years into an unlikely career with the NYPD in which he rose to become a Captain, he said the assault of Mr. Louima in the 70th Precinct station-house bathroom by Justin Volpe, who shoved a broken broomstick into his rectum, then smashed it into his prisoner's mouth, breaking several teeth, "brought back those memories."
The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association following the August 1997 assault tried to orchestrate a cover-up, and the officers who transported Mr. Louima to Coney Island Hospital the following day because of the grievous injuries to his colon and bladder told hospital staff that they were the result of "abnormal homosexual activities."
But a hospital nurse, Magalie Laurent, was convinced that they were lying, and persuaded Daily News columnist Mike McAlary to come to the hospital, where he slipped past a police officer and into Mr. Louima's hospital room for an interview that, along with a photo of Mr. Louima in his bed wearing a hospital gown, made the front page of The News.
Aided by conversations with cops he knew who were horrified enough by what they had witnessed—including Officer Volpe strutting through the stationhouse displaying the stick, covered in Mr. Louima's blood and feces and declaring, "I broke a man down"—Mr. McAlary's columns, which won him a Pulitzer Prize the following year, led to indictments of Mr. Volpe and several other cops who had been with him when Mr. Louima was taken into custody following a fight outside an East Flatbush nightclub.
Guilty Plea Got 30 Years
Mr. Adams, who two years earlier had founded 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement Who Care, was a constant presence at Officer Volpe's trial, which ended in midstream when he pleaded guilty in May 1999 to the savage assault and was given a 30-year prison term. The Borough President said he was among those who pressed Brooklyn prosecutors hardest to charge Charles Schwarz, an officer who wound up getting a five-year prison term for lying about being the cop who brought the handcuffed Mr. Louima, his pants down around his ankles, to Mr. Volpe in the bathroom.
"It made me the target of surveillance," Mr. Adams told reporters. "It saw my windows being shot out" in what he viewed as an attempt to intimidate him.
But he recalled other cases in which excessive force by cops—dating back to the 1973 shooting in the back of 10-year-old Clifford Glover by Officer Thomas Shea in Queens and the 1978 strangulation of Crown Heights civil leader Arthur Miller when he tried to cool out a dispute between his brother and Brooklyn cops over a ticket—had not produced justice. Mr. Shea was acquitted at trial, and no officer was charged in Mr. Miller's death because it was unclear whose nightstick had been used to cut off his air supply.
And so, Mr. Adams said, "I am moved by the memory of Mr. Louima sharing his story from a hospital bed...exposing injustice and the fear of potential retaliation...The bravery of Abner just really touched me."
'I Know Eric'
Mr. Louima, who was 30 at the time of the assault, has clearly aged: his close-cropped hair and goatee have given way to baldness and a bushy white beard. He lives in Florida, where he has used part of the $5.8 million he received from a settlement with Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration to create a charitable foundation and several schools.
When he was asked about other candidates having taken harder lines than Mr. Adams on matters like sharply reducing the Police Department's budget and its enforcement role, Mr. Louima said softly that he was not really familiar with those other candidates and their positions.
"I know Eric Adams," he said.
The Brooklyn Borough President said his idea of police reform did not include taking away resources as a form of punishment. "The leadership of police reform starts at City Hall," Mr. Adams said. "This is the Mayor's Police Department. With my understanding of public safety and justice, they go together."
Mr. Louima began his endorsement by saying, "I believe he will be the greatest Mayor for the great city. He's going to be a Mayor to unite each and every one."
This does not mean that some of Mr. Adams's positions would have cops and their unions singing "Kumbaya." He has pledged that if elected, he would make public the list the NYPD maintains of officers it is monitoring because of excessive-force incidents and complaints of abuse by residents.
Change to Psych Testing
He said he would oversee "a massive recruitment campaign...let's start recruiting a new group of bright young minds" from various communities of color.
Mr. Adams added, "Let's put in place a real psychological evaluation to identify who does not have the psychological capacity to be a police officer, and then let's expedite the removal of them."
Currently, the department uses a psychological screening as part of the hiring process but does not do periodic exams of all cops, instead confining such testing to those whose behavior on the street has raised alarms. Some policing experts have said this not only lets cops who become prone to misbehavior due to the stress of patrol duty to slip through the cracks but also prevents the department from spotting struggling officers who wind up committing suicide.
Mr. Adams said that he stood out from his rivals as the candidate who is "the most-consistent, the most-understanding and the most-energetic about police reform. This is a 35-year issue that I've fought for," going back to his early days as a Police Officer.
After the press conference ended, Mr. Louima was asked whether, during his occasional visits to the city, policing seems changed compared to 24 years ago, when the assault against him produced a major shakeup at the 70th Precinct and gave the public a shocking glimpse of the brutality some cops could commit, believing that their colleagues would keep their actions from coming to light.
"No different," he replied.