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Meet Max Antoine: New Jersey’s Louima

Is there a rationing policy by the press that we are allowed only one atrocity against a Haitian per decade? While the recent guilty plea of Justin Volpe in the Abner Louima torture trial generated some headlines, an equally brutal incident in Irvington, NJ, has passed by virtually without attention. This case involves a gang of cops who forced their way without probable cause into an apartment where a party was going on, hurled racist language, beat up several guests and nearly killed one of them, after he asked for their badge numbers. It also involves complicit emergency medical teams who refused treatment to the battered victims, a prosecutor’s office that chose to go after the victims rather than the cops and an utterly indifferent press. In other words, a typical day on the streets in black America.

On June 2, 1996, Marie D. Antoine, a Haitian immigrant, was hosting a family birthday party at her apartment in Irvington. Apparently, one of the neighbors called Irvington police to complain about the noise. At 2 a.m., three Irvington police officers, Phillip Rucker, Alfredo Aleman and Keith Stouch arrived at the apartment and asked that the music volume be lowered. The stereo was turned off.
But 15 minutes later the police returned and forced their way inside. The officers entered without a warrant and without the consent of Marie Antoine.

When they came through the door, one of the officers allegedly yelled, “Get the fuck out, the party’s over!” The officers searched the apartment, apparently for drugs, with flashlights. Frustrated that the guests did not immediately begin to leave, the police began pushing and shoving people out the door. At this point, Marie Antoine’s brother Max, a paralegal who ran an accounting service, told the guests (most of whom were Haitians) that they had the right to be there and that in America the police weren’t permitted to “act like the Ton Ton Macoutes.” He asked his sister, Marie, to write down the officers’ badge numbers so that he could file an official complaint.
Officer Rucker apparently overheard Max Antoine’s comments. According to numerous witnesses at the apartment, Rucker pushed his way through the crowd, knocking to the ground Marie (who was six months pregnant at the time), and grabbed Antoine by the neck. Rucker allegedly rammed Antoine’s head into the wall. Then, guests say, Antoine was hit in the head by a nightstick swung “in a baseball-like fashion” by Officer Aleman.

Antoine dropped to the floor in agony. Now all three cops were on top of him, and witnesses say that Officer Stouch stomped on him while the other officers flailed away at his head and body with their nightsticks. Several of the guests tried to intervene, but they were shoved aside.

Meanwhile, the three cops dragged Max out of the apartment and into the hall, where he was kicked and beaten again. Marie Antoine tried to stop the abuse, asking, “What are you doing to my brother?” According to Marie, Officer Rucker turned to her and said, “I will teach him about American law.” Max was then handcuffed and dragged down a flight of stairs, screaming in pain, as his five year-old daughter, Nelchael, watched in horror.

At the bottom of the stairs, witnesses report, the police picked Antoine off the floor and shoved him through the doorway, pushing his head through the glass pane on the storm door. Max was then placed in the back of the police cruiser and sprayed in the face with a burning chemical, most likely pepper spray.

By this time, 10 more police officers arrived on the scene. As in the Rodney King beating, none of them attempted to stop the attacks on Antoine. Instead, they cordoned off the area and sent all the guests inside the apartment.

Max Antoine’s ordeal was far from over. When he reached the police station, he repeatedly asked for medical treatment. Instead, he was led across the lockup area and, still handcuffed, thrown into a cell and beaten and kicked again. Antoine says that when he asked to use the phone to call for an attorney, one of the officers snapped, “Shut up and die like a man.”

Despite the fact that he was bleeding profusely, police didn’t call the emergency medical team until after Max Antoine had been booked. When the medics arrived, they refused to give him any medical attention. Antoine, whose injuries were numerous, excruciatingly painful and life-threatening, spent two nights in jail before he was released to his family.

Antoine was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was placed in intensive care. His injuries were serious and debilitating. He sustained a fractured left eye socket, a broken jaw, bowel and bladder damage and spinal injuries. Over the next two years, he has undergone 18 surgeries, including lumbar and spinal implants.
The beating left Max Antoine permanently disabled. He is now paralyzed below the waist and blind in his left eye. He has suffered brain damage and has lost sexual function. According to his wife, Max is often depressed and suicidal. His medical bills are piling up and he has no way to pay them off.

Antoine and several of the guests at his sister’s party lodged complaints with the Irvington Police Dept. and the prosecutor’s office. Ultimately, a grand jury was convened. But the prosecutors never called any witnesses and no charges or other disciplinary action was taken against the police officers.

The Antoines also sought the help of the Clinton administration. However, the Justice Dept. has so far refused to investigate the case.
Antoine, however, has been charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. He is slated to go to trial on July 26.
Antoine and his family have filed a civil suit against the Irvington police and the emergency medical service, saying his civil rights were violated and that he received inadequate medical care. Certainly, he has suffered awful ordeals because of the police beating. For example, he had a neurotransmitter inserted in his spine to stimulate his paralyzed muscles. This device must be replaced every two years. He also needs continuing rehabilitation therapy. These requirements and the initial operations have yielded a medical bill thus far of $650,000. Medicaid has enabled Antoine to take care of this bill, but now he faces the consequences of Bill Clinton’s deal with the Republicans on Medicaid “reform,” which set a ceiling-which has now kicked in-of $1500 per year. So he faces the likelihood that he won’t be able to replace the neurotransmitter, or even go to therapy. Such a journey requires the hiring of a van able to take a person in a wheelchair. Rental rates for these vehicles are high. Antoine’s wife, says that he uses up the $1500 in a month.

For their part, the Irvington police claim that it’s all Antoine’s fault and that he incurred his injuries while being taken from the apartment complex. If we are to believe the cops, Antoine-handcuffed at the time-suddenly broke free and threw himself through a glass storm door and then refused medical treatment for two days.

What happened to Antoine is even worse that the assault on Abner Louima, yet the indifference of the Justice Dept. and of the New Jersey police to this outrage has been total. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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