March 1, 2002

Nightmare now a dream for Schwarz family

By Leonard Levitt STAFF WRITER

Staff writers Theresa Vargas, Steven Kreytak and Sean Gardiner, and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

After finally winning a round in the long campaign for her husband's freedom, Andra Schwarz yesterday said she felt she was now "living in a dream" rather than a nightmare.

"The lesson is don't give up," said Charles Schwarz's wife. "The truth will set you free. My husband has a huge amount of integrity. He wasn't near that bathroom."

Since her husband's 1999 conviction for his role in the sodomization of the Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, Andra Schwarz has been Charles Schwarz's most tireless supporter. She has raised money, appeared on radio and television and kept up his spirits in monthly phone calls.

Yesterday, she wore a navy-blue T-shirt emblazoned with "Free P.O. Chuck Schwarz," on the front, and "Served with Honor ... Framed by Politics" on the back as she spoke to reporters from the office of attorney Ronald Fischetti.

The appeals court decision granting her husband a new trial left her "in shock," she said.

"It's been a nightmare. It's been like living in a war," she said yesterday. "He has been in solitary so long. I've lost track, he has been in so many different places."

By different places, she meant federal prisons. Schwarz has been in six of them. He has been in solitary confinement for most of the two years and eight months he has been imprisoned, she said.

"Full lock-down for 23 hours. No TV. Only a head-set radio, with the books and magazines we send him."

He is allowed one phone call every 30 days, she said.

"I worry about his safety, his mental state, his physical state. He was in one penitentiary and his roommate was told to get another room because they were going to burn him out. So that he has been in solitary for nearly all that time," she said.

Other players in the effort to overturn the decision were overjoyed if not surprised by the latest development.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, speaking through a spokesman, said, "I am gratified these judges had the courage to do the right thing and avoid the politics that have plagued this case form the very beginning."

Despite the judges' citing a conflict of interest and what they called "ineffective counsel" by Schwarz's PBA attorney, Stephen Worth, that lawyer, too, praised the decision.

"I am happy for Chuck," Worth said. "Obviously I am very pleased the court reached the right result, although I think they did it for the wrong reasons. I certainly don't feel that there was any conflict of interest that affected Chuck's representation."

Two of the happiest people yesterday were Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder, police officers who had been convicted of a cover-up conspiracy until the court threw out that decision yesterday. Unlike Schwarz, they will not face a new trial.

"I got friends calling from all over the country. Prayers and lit candles worked," said Bruder, who was out of prison on bail pending appeal.

Joseph Tacopina, attorney for Wiese, said his client wanted to "resume his normal life and possibly return to the force."

But the key player in the attack, Justin Volpe, remained silent.

Volpe pleaded guilty to the assault on Louima, and is now serving a 30-year sentence at Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn. He declined to comment, said a prison spokesman.

Det. Eric Turetzky, who testified he saw Volpe swing a wooden stick as he led Louima to the 70th Precinct stationhouse bathroom, also declined to discuss the case.

Staff writers Theresa Vargas, Steven Kreytak and Sean Gardiner, and The Associated Press contributed to this story.