March 7, 2002

Schwarz Granted $1M Bail

From Staff Reports Staff Writer

(Newsday Photo/Alan Raia)  

A twice convicted former policeman Charles Schwarz received bail of $1 million in Brooklyn federal court today, freeing him as he awaits a new trial in the Abner Louima torture case.

U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi ruled Schwarz could see freedom for the first time in nearly three years by posting the bail, which will be secured by the equity in his mother’s Staten Island home.

Wearing a suit and a smile, Schwarz walked out of the courthouse at about 2 p.m.

"It’s hard to explain but what I feel is so overwhelming right now," he said. "Today is a great day."

After 33 months of prison food, Schwarz said, his attorney, Ronald Fischetti, had promised to take him for a steak dinner.

“I’m looking forward to that,” Schwarz said.

The former patrolman thanked his wife Audra and other supporters, saying he received thousands of letters.

He credited Fischetti with keeping his hope alive.

"Back in August 1999, when he came on this case for me, he told me he was going to get this reversed," Schwarz said. "He kept my spirits up and he made me keep my hope up that this day would happen. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be standing him right now.

Earlier, a fit-looking Schwarz smiled upon entering the courtroom and waved to his wife.

Raggi rejected a prosecution motion to keep Schwarz under house arrest, instead restricting him to the five boroughs of New York City and an unspecified home. Schwarz is due back in court June 24.

Raggi asked Schwarz if he understood the conditions of his bail. “Yes,” he replied in a hoarse voice.

The judge specifically barred him from taking a proposed two-week vacation in New England after the prosecution objected.

“With all due respect, I don’t think the concern of the court should be whether this defendant can go on vacation,” said U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad.

Fischetti had asked Raggi to free his client on a $100,000 bond secured with family property — the same bail set before he was jailed.

Schwarz’s friends and supporters, some wearing “Free Chuck” buttons, filled the front rows of the Brooklyn courtroom.

Schwarz had been serving a 15-year sentence for two convictions at two trials.

In 1999, a jury found Schwarz guilty of violating Louima’s civil rights by pinning down the handcuffed Haitian immigrant while another officer sodomized him with a broken broomstick. A year later, a second jury convicted Schwarz and two other officers, Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese, of conspiring to obstruct a grand jury investigation of the 1997 attack.

But last week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the conspiracy convictions and entered a judgement of acquittal. It also ruled Schwarz’s should be retried in the civil rights case because his lawyer had a conflict of interest.

Louima, speaking at a news conference in Miami before the hearing, said he was disappointed by the appeals court decision.

“I had hoped, after all these years, I would be able to go on with my life,” Louima said. “Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

Despite his complaint, Louima pledged that he would “fully cooperate” with any further prosecution to “demonstrate to the world that our system of justice does work.”

Louima was a key prosecution witness in the first trial.

Louima attorney Sanford Rubenstein, at the same news conference, said that Schwarz “does not walk out as a free man. He walks out as a defendant to face at trial an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in which he was indicted as a participant in one of the most brutal acts of police brutality in this country.”

The attack on Louima, a black Haitian immigrant, by white officers sparked street protests and a pending federal inquiry into whether the NYPD’s rank-and-file shields abusive officers behind a “blue wall of silence.”

It also resulted in an $8.7 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by Louima against the city and a police union.