The Chief

August 27, 1999

PBA Demands Cop's Release in Louima Case

By William Van Auken

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association called for the immediate release on bail of an ex-Police Officer convicted in connection with the 1997 Brooklyn stationhouse torture of Haitian imigrant Abner Louima.

The police union said that Federal authorities should reinvestigate the case against Charles Schwarz, who was found guilty in June of holding Mr. Louima down in a Brooklyn stationhouse bathroom while a secorid cop, Justin A. Volpe, shoved a stick into his rectum, causing severe injuries.

'Not in Bathroom'

"From the beginning, the evidence in this case has always pointed away from Officer Schwarz being in the bathroom at any time during the processing of Abner Louima," said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch, who appeared at an Aug.17 press conference at the union's downtown headquarters with Mr. Schwarz's wife Andra and other family members.

"This is a case about one isolated, horrific act by one single police officer," Mr. Lynch said. "People with a political agenda have fanned the flames of this incident to the point where an innocent man is now being punished beyond belief."

The union's appeal followed the leaking of a written pre-sentencing statement that Mr. Volpe gave to Federal probation authorities in which he said Mr. Schwarz had no role in the assault on Mr. Louima and identified Thomas Wiese as the second officer who was with him in the 70th Precinct bathroom. "He saw what was going on and did nothing to stop it," Mr. Volpe said of Officer Wiese.

The Federal jury acquitted Officer Wiese, together with Police Officer Thomas Bruder and Sgt. Michael Bellomo, on all charges.

Mr. Lynch declined to comment directly on Mr. Volpe's statement. "My concern today is not to retry this case," he said. "My concern is for a Police Officer behind bars."

Mr. Volpe's account, while exonerating Mr. Schwarz would implicate Officer Wiese, who was a PBA delegate at the 70th Precinct, in a crime for which he could conceivably be tried a second time. In the Federal trial Mr. Wiese was not charged in connection with the bathroom assault, but only with the alleged beating of Mr. Louima in a patrol car.

Federal prosecutors have dismissed Mr. Volpe's account, asserting that he has no credibility following a trial in which he changed his plea to guilty in the face of damning testimony from fellow cops and in which his attorney, Marvyn Kornberg had initially suggested that Mr. Louima sustained his injuries in a gay sex act.

'Act of Retribution'

Officer Wiese's attorney Joseph Tacopina, indicated that Mr. Volpe's attempt to implicate his client in the bathroom assault was an act of retribution for Officer Wiese having provided evidence to the prosecution.

Mr Schwarz was convicted largely based on the testimony of two fellow police officers - Det. Eric Turetzky and Officer Mark Schofield - who said they saw him leading the handcuffed prisoner toward the precinct bathroom and later witnessed a disheveled Justin Volpe walking from it.

Mr. Louima did not directly identify Mr. Schwarz, but said that a second cop held him down in the bathroom and that it was the same officer who had driven the patrol car that brought him to the stationhouse. Police records indicated that Mr. Schwarz was the driver. That night

Police Commissioner Howard Safir signed an order firing Mr. Schwarz shortly after his conviction.

Judge Not Swayed

An initial bid for Mr. Schwarz's release on bail and a new trial was squelched late last month when U.S. District Court Judge Eugene H. Nickerson upheld the jury's verdict convicting the cop. Stephen C. Worth, Mr. Schwarz's trial attorney, argued that the prosecution had failed to directly inform him that Mr. Volpe was prepared to exonerate his client in connection with the bathroom assault. Judge Nickerson held that Mr. Worth was aware of what Mr. Volpe would say and chose not to call him to the stand for tactical reasons.

Appearing at the PBA press conference, Andra Schwarz confirmed that she and her husband have replaced Mr. Worth, who is the police union's lead defense attorney, with a new lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti.

She disputed a reporter's characterization of the move

Worth had his heart and soul in this case."

Legal experts, however, anticipate that one of the arguments Mr. Fischetti will make in appealing Mr. Schwarz's conviction is that of "ineffective assistance of counsel," on the grounds that the trial attorney should have called Mr. Volpe to the stand.

The PBA will continue to cover the costs of Mr. Schwarz's appeal and provide support for his family, Mr. Lynch confirmed. "New York City Police Officers always look after their own," he said.

Call to Re-Open Case

The union will begin by asking the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District to reopen Mr. Schwarz's case, Mr. Lynch said, and will pursue the issue "all the way up the ladder to the White House if necessary, until we see that this innocent Police Officer is free again."

The PBA also announced that the National Police Foundation, headed by Joseph Occhipinti, has established a "PO Charles Schwarz Legal Defense Fund."

Describing her husband as a former Marine and decorated cop, Ms. Schwarz said he was "disillusioned, but he'll bounce back." After more than two months locked in solitary confinement at the Manhattan Correction Center, she said Mr. Schwarz had difficulty adjusting to prison "because he knows that he doesn't belong there."

'He Won't Give Up'

"He wants, people to know that he had nothing to do with it and had no knowledge of the bathroom assault on Mr. Louima. "He's not going to give up and neither will we."

Following the press conference, Michael Immitt, the PBA's Brooklyn South trustee and the first union official to talk to all of the officers charged in the incident, said that Federal prosecutors deliberately ignored evidence exonerating Mr. Schwarz.

"The Federal government has knowledge from several different witnesses, including me, that Chuck Schwarz

The leader of a black police fraternal organization criticized the PBA's defense of the convicted cop as an action that will strengthen the "blue wall of silence."

Lieut. Eric Adams, president of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, said it is wrong for the PBA to support someone who participated in an "outrageous display of torture within a police facility."

'A Moral Obligation'

PBA First Vice President John Puglissi responded that the union "has a moral, legal and contractual obligation to Charles Schwarz, as it has to all its members, to provide legal counsel and defense through all the stages of the criminal justice system, including the appeal process." He added that in Mr. Schwarz's case, "Our reading of the evidence is that a grave miscarriage of justice has been perpetrated and an innocent man is in prison."

Federal probation officials, according to published reports, have recommended that Mr. Volpe receive life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentence in November. Mr. Schwarz could face a similar penalty though his sentencing date has not been set.

Mr. Schwarz and Officers Wiese and Bruder still face another trial on charges of obstructing justice. They are accused of lying to investigators in an attempt to clear Mr. Schwarz of the bathroom assault.