New York Daily News

March 8, 2002

Louima Cop Free on Bail

Victim vows to testify at new trial

By MARTIN MBUGUA, LESLIE CASIMIR and MIKE CLAFFEY in New York and MONIKA MESA in Miami
Daily News Writers

fter nearly three years behind bars for the brutal police attack on Abner Louima, ex-cop Charles Schwarz walked out of a Brooklyn courthouse yesterday, free on $1 million bail.

"Today is a great day. I've been waiting for this day for 33 months," a beaming Schwarz said after Federal Judge Reena Raggi released him pending a new trial.

Minutes later, Schwarz was in the arms of his wife, Andra, who has waged a public battle to exonerate her husband.

schwarz_att.jpg.JPG (9901 bytes)
Flanked by his two attorneys, Charles Schwarz leaves prison yesterday.

"It's hard to explain how I feel," he said. "It's just so overwhelming right now."

Despite an intense police presence in expectation of protests, only a handful of demonstrators showed up.

In Miami, Louima said he was disappointed in the appeals court ruling and that he had hoped he "would be able to go on with my life. Unfortunately, that is not the case."

He pledged, however, that he would "fully cooperate" with any further prosecution to "demonstrate to the world that our system of justice does work."

There was little opposition to the bail request, which was 10 times higher than the $100,000 bail set for Schwarz after his 1997 arrest.

schwarz_wife.JPG (8709 bytes)
Schwarz and wife Andra arrive in Manhattan.

U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad asked Raggi to release Schwarz under house arrest, citing an "extraordinarily lengthy and detailed record of obstructive conduct by this defendant."

The judge denied the request but ordered Schwarz, who will live in his mother's Staten Island home, to remain within the five boroughs at all times and to stay away from witnesses in his case.

That includes his former co-defendants, ex-cops Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder.

Raggi also denied a request that Schwarz and his wife be allowed to take a vacation in New England.

New Trial Ordered

Last week, a federal appeals court tossed out a 1999 guilty verdict against Schwarz and ordered a new trial on charges that he held Louima down during the attack in a Brooklyn stationhouse bathroom Aug. 9, 1997.

The judges went even further with Bruder and Wiese, clearing them, and Schwarz, of trying to cover up one of the worst police brutality cases in U.S. history. The three were convicted of obstructing justice at a second trial early in 2000.

loumia_sharp.JPG (9577 bytes)
An angry Abner Louima speaks to the press as Rev. Al Sharpton looks on.

Yesterday, Schwarz thanked his supporters, who crowded around him in Cadman Plaza, including his wife and his attorney, Ron Fischetti, who spearheaded the legal appeal that won him a new trial. Also there was his mom, Estelle, who secured his bail by offering her home as collateral.

The two-hour hearing was held in a packed, tightly guarded courtroom before Raggi, who took over the case after the death in January of trial Judge Eugene Nickerson.

At the start of the hearing, Schwarz emerged from a holding pen wearing a dark gray suit. The long hair he had grown in prison had been cut. The thick-browed ex-officer appeared to have lost weight behind bars. He smiled and waved to family members, who packed the first row.

Raggi said she wanted to move the case quickly toward a new trial and set June 24 for opening arguments.

At issue once again will be whether prosecutors can prove their charge that Schwarz was the cop in the bathroom when ex-Officer Justin Volpe sodomized the Haitian immigrant, shoving a broomstick into his rectum.

Volpe had arrested Louima during a melee outside a Flatbush nightclub.

Louima was not able to identify Schwarz as the second cop, but he testified at trial that the driver of the squad car that took him to the stationhouse was the man who held him down. Schwarz was that driver.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Schwarz's civil rights conviction, saying his trial lawyer had a conflict of interest that may have deterred him from pursuing a strategy of blaming another cop. The judges also said the jury may have been tainted because they heard press reports about Volpe's testimony.

The panel also voided the convictions of Schwarz, Wiese and Bruder for obstructing a federal grand jury for lack of evidence. But it said there was ample evidence cops lied to investigators.

New Charges Possible

Vinegrad suggested in court yesterday that he is considering filing new obstruction charges against the three ex-cops.

Vinegrad told Raggi he would decide on any new charges before the end of the month.

Schwarz celebrated his release with family and friends at Fischetti's office. After the party, his wife said she was looking forward to a "restful evening."

"It's great to have him home," she said.

In an interview with WCBS-TV, Schwarz declared he was "absolutely innocent."

For now, he said, he could hardly believe he was going home.

"It's great," he said. "I'm overwhelmed by it. You know, 33 months of incarceration and now that I'm finally home, it's unbelievable."

Schwarz didn't respond when asked if he had a message for Louima. But Fischetti said, "We're sorry with what happened to him, but we had nothing to do with it."

The New Trial

Charles Schwarz faces a new trial for allegedly violating the civil rights of Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was brutally attacked in a police stationhouse bathroom. Schwarz was convicted in 1999, but last week a federal appeals court ordered a new trial, ruling that his lawyer had a conflict of interest and the jury was tainted. A look at the key witnesses and their likely testimony:

On Schwarz's Side

  • Justin Volpe, the ex-cop serving 30 years for assaulting the Haitian immigrant. Volpe is expected to testify that Schwarz wasn’t with him during the attack. Volpe did not testify on Schwarz’s behalf during the first trial.

  • Thomas Wiese, the ex-cop who has admitted leading Louima to the stationhouse bathroom and then entering the bathroom after the attack. Wiese’s lawyer has said he would testify on Schwarz’s behalf.

On the Prosecuter's Side

  • Louima, who testified during the first trial that the driver of the patrol car that took him to the stationhouse was the same man who held him down while Volpe attacked him. Schwarz was the driver.

  • Officer Eric Turetzky, who testified that he saw Schwarz leading a half-naked and handcuffed Louima toward the bathroom.

With Tamer El-Ghobashy and Jose Martinez