The Chief

December 24, 1999

Louima Cops Face 2nd Trial

By William Van Auken

Justin A. Volpe, sentenced to 30 years in Federal prison for his brutal August 1997 assault on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in the athroom of Brooklyn's 70th Precinct stationhouse, may be the star witness in an obstruction of justice trial of three Police Officers, his former co-defendants, when they appear in Brooklyn Federal court Jan. 3.

Two of the officers, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder were acquitted in a Federal civil rights trial last May in which they were accused of assaulting Mr. Louima in a patrol car after he was arrested outside a Flatbush nightclub.

The third officer, Charles Schwarz, was convicted of aiding Mr. Volpe in the bathroom assault by holding Mr. Louima down while the other cop shoved a broken piece of broomstick up his rectum, causing severe internal injuries. Mr. Schwarz, who was fired from the NYPD after his conviction, faces a possible life sentence without parole.

Lied to Aid Schwarz

In the second trial, all three men are accused of conspiring to lie about the incident to Federal investigators in order to clear Mr. Schwarz of any role in the bathroom assault.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, together with Mr. Schwarz's attorney, family and supporters, are looking to an acquittal on the obstruction charge as a step toward exonerating the former cop of a crime they say he did not commit.

PBA President Patrick J. Lunch joined with the union's first vice president, John Puglissi, and Recording Secretary Robert W. Zink in calling for Mr. Schwarz's release after they visited the imprisoned cop inside the Metropolitan Correction Center in lower Manhattan Dec. 17.

"With Justin Volpe standing up in court and proclaiming that Charles Schwarz was not there, it is obvious that an innocent man is in prison," Mr. Lynch said. "A New York City Police Officer has been wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit."

Asked whether he was concerned that Mr. Volpe's statement, while exonerating Mr. Schwarz, could also be used to indict Officer Wiese as an accomplice in the bathroom assault, the PBA leader said his first concern was to secure Mr. Schwarz's release. "This is something for the courts to sort out," he said. "But there has been an injustice done and it must be righted."

Mr. Schwarz's lawyer, Ronald Fischelli, had a subpoena for Mr. Volpe delivered to the Metropolitan Correction Center Dec. 14 so that the convicted ex-cop will be available as a defense witness at the trial.

Put Wiese on Spot

Addressing the court before his Dec. 13 sentencing, Mr. Volpe said he wanted to "clear up the government's misconception that Schwarz was the officer in the bathroom with me. At no time was Schwarz in the bathroom with me during the assault. The officer I was referring to was Wiese."

While the convicted cop had given a similar account to his attorneys and to Federal probation officials, it was his first public claim that the Government had convicted the wrong man.

Mr. Fischetti said that the jury in the second trial will not hear evidence that could not be brought out in the first. Both of Mr. Schwarz's co-defendants, Officers Bruder and Wiese, who didn't testify at the original trial, have stated that he was not the second cop in the bathroom. Officer Bruder told a reporter that he saw Mr. Louima being led to the bathroom area by Officers Volpe and Wiese, while Officer Wiese told prosecutors that he walked into the bathroom to find Officer Volpe leaning over the Haitian immigrant with a stick in his hand.

The second trial is also expected to focus at least in part on a meeting held between the defendants and the PBA representatives in the aftermath of the assault. While the union anticipated that its Brooklyn South Trustee, Michael J, Immitt, and others involved in the meeting would be called as witnesses, they have yet to receive subpoenas from Federal prosecutors, PBA attorney Stuart London said.

"This was a normal meeting between PBA representatives and Police Officers in which arrangements were made to get attorneys," said Mr. London. "There was no conspiracy."

Mr. Lynch also dismissed allegations that the union was somehow involved in an attempt to obstruct justice. "Some people feel that the big prize in this trial could be the PBA," said the union president. "The only thing the PBA was doing was its job, defending New York City Police Officers. Who else is going to stand up for them?"