Channel 4: WNBC News

February 28, 2002

Schwarz Indicted In Louima Torture Case

Former Cop Faces Perjury Charges


NEW YORK -- A federal grand jury on Monday indicted former New York Police Department officer Charles Schwarz on perjury charges for allegedly lying about his role in the torture of Abner Louima.

Coming less than a month after a federal appeals court overturned Schwarz's conviction, the new charges signal federal prosecutors' determination to move forward aggressively in the case.

The new indictment states that Schwarz lied twice Feb. 23, 2000, during a federal trial in which he and two other former officers were accused of obstructing justice.

The indictment states that Schwarz lied when he denied escorting Louima from the 70th Precinct front desk on Aug. 9, 1997, and when he denied being in the bathroom with Louima when he was assaulted. It states that Schwarz escorted the Haitian immigrant from the desk and was with him in the bathroom.

Schwarz's attorney, Ronald Fischetti, said he and his client were stunned and upset by the decision.

"He has testified that he did not do this and now they've charged him with saying he's innocent," Fischetti said. "I don't understand what the prosecution is trying to do here."

U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad said the perjury charges "reflect the government's determination that the defendant be held accountable for this corruption of the judicial fact-finding process."

"This defendant, having taken an oath that he would testify truthfully, took the witness stand at a federal criminal trial and repeatedly lied about the circumstances surrounding the sexual assault of Abner Louima," Vinegrad said in a statement.

Last month, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Schwarz's conviction and those of two other former police officers in the case.

The court ordered that Schwarz be retried on civil rights charges related to his role in the torture of Louima. Schwarz had been serving his 15-year sentence in an Oklahoma prison but is now free on $1 million bail.

In its ruling, the three-judge panel said that Schwarz's first lawyer did not defend him adequately and that the jury was tainted by news reports when it convicted him of violating Louima's civil rights by holding him down during the assault.

In addition, the court said there was insufficient evidence to sustain obstruction-of-justice convictions of Schwarz and officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder. The court found that while the officers may have misled investigators, there was insufficient evidence to support the broad obstruction charge.

The appeals court entered a judgment of acquittal for all three officers on the obstruction charges. Wiese and Bruder had been given five-year prison sentences but were free on bail during their appeal.

The ruling did not affect the guilty plea of the main attacker, Justin Volpe, who admitted he sodomized the handcuffed Louima with a broken broomstick in a fit of rage. Volpe is serving 30 years.

Schwarz has denied ever being in the bathroom. Even after his conviction, he insisted that Louima and the government's other star witness, a fellow officer, confused him with Wiese. Volpe himself indicated Schwarz was not there.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has spoken on behalf of Louima, praised Monday's indictment as a step toward justice and criticized those who treated Schwarz as a hero.

"Schwarz was not a hero; in fact, he is a liar," Sharpton said. "The grand jury does not agree that he is a hero."

However, Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, called the decision "a disgrace" and said Schwarz "should not be subjected to another vindictive prosecution by the U.S. attorney."

Louima's lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said his client would testify against Schwarz in the new trial.

Louima sued the city and the police union and settled in July for $8.7 million -- the largest payout in a police brutality case in New York. He has moved to Miami.

Watch all WNBC news stories