The New York Times

March 26, 2002

Officer Faces New Charges in Torture Case


former Brooklyn police officer whose two convictions in the Abner Louima assault case were overturned last month was indicted yesterday on two new charges of perjury.

The indictment of the former officer, Charles Schwarz, was announced by Alan Vinegrad, the interim United States attorney in Brooklyn, who said prosecutors wanted to hold Mr. Schwarz "accountable for corruption of the judicial process."

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, immediately denounced the new accusations, saying they were part of a "witch hunt."

Mr. Schwarz already faces a retrial on charges that he joined Officer Justin A. Volpe in the attack on Mr. Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct station house on Aug. 9, 1997.

In the development yesterday, a federal grand jury in Brooklyn added to those counts by accusing Mr. Schwarz of falsely testifying that he had not escorted Mr. Louima away from the front desk of the 70th Precinct station house and that he had not been in the bathroom when Mr. Volpe jammed a stick into Mr. Louima's rectum.

Those statements by Mr. Schwarz are at the core of his claim of innocence, but Mr. Vinegrad, the federal prosecutor who has overseen the case for nearly five years, said they are part of a pattern of lies.

"Many acts of obstruction and lying have permeated this case from the beginning," Mr. Vinegrad said. "The defendant Charles Schwarz's conduct at his own trial was uniquely serious."

One of Mr. Schwarz's lawyers, Diarmuid White, suggested that the charges were brought by the government to improve its position at Mr. Schwarz's next trial, which is scheduled to begin in June.

"It really doesn't change the landscape — the jury is still going to determine the same facts," Mr. White said. "I think they perceive some tactical advantage. Maybe they feel in the eyes of the jury it would discredit Chuck up front."

From his hospital bed, Mr. Louima quickly picked out Mr. Volpe as his chief attacker, but was unable to identify the second of the two police officers he said brutalized him in the station house bathroom. Mr. Louima had been arrested outside a Flatbush nightclub by Officer Volpe, who had been punched during a melee and mistook Mr. Louima for the culprit.

Mr. Volpe eventually pleaded guilty to attacking Mr. Louima and is serving a sentence of 30 years.

Mr. Louima did provide a clue to the identity of the second officer in the bathroom: he said that man had been the driver of the patrol car. No one disputed that Mr. Schwarz had been the driver.

Two other officers, Eric Turetzky and Mark Schofield, testified that they saw Mr. Schwarz leading Mr. Louima away from the front desk and toward the station house bathroom. The desk sergeant, Jeffrey Fallon, said he did not see who led Mr. Louima away, but testified that Mr. Schwarz had been at the desk with Mr. Louima, filling out paperwork. Sergeant Fallon said that when he glanced away for a moment, Mr. Louima departed and so did Mr. Schwarz.

For his part, Mr. Schwarz testified that he had not led Mr. Louima away, and said he had not even been in the station house at the time his fellow officers claimed to have seen him walking Mr. Louima toward the bathroom.

The perjury indictment quotes parts of his testimony on this point.

"Did you take him anywhere away from the desk?" Mr. Vinegrad, the prosecutor, asked.

"No," Mr. Schwarz replied.

Asked if he had ever been in the bathroom with Mr. Louima, Mr. Schwarz replied: "Absolutely not."

Mr. Schwarz's claim of innocence was partly bolstered by Mr. Volpe, who said that a different police officer, Thomas Wiese, had accompanied him and Mr. Louima into the bathroom and watched wordlessly during the entire attack.

And Mr. Wiese told investigators a different version. He said that he had indeed gone into the bathroom, but only after the attack on Mr. Louima was over. He said he had been playing with the station house dog outside the bathroom, heard and saw nothing amiss, and did not see Mr. Schwarz.

Mr. Wiese has not testified in any proceedings. He and another former officer, Thomas Bruder, were convicted with Mr. Schwarz on charges that they obstructed a grand jury investigation. Those convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court, which ruled that while the three former officers had attempted to mislead investigators, they had not testified before a grand jury and could not have obstructed its inquiry.

The authorities have not yet said whether they will pursue new charges against Mr. Wiese and Mr. Bruder. Early yesterday, before the grand jury voted the indictment, Mr. Vinegrad answered questions about the Louima case after delivering a speech on terrorism to the Citizens Crime Commission.

"To my mind, the door remains open to the possibility of other charges of like kind being brought against one or more of the officers, and as I said earlier, that decision has not yet been made," Mr. Vinegrad said.

One of Mr. Louima's lawyers, Peter Neufeld, said the indictment yesterday might alert other former officers — particularly Mr. Wiese, whose testimony might be helpful to Mr. Schwarz — of the perils of perjury.

"It's a warning to Tommy Wiese for the next trial, and other police officers in general, that perjury in support of a cop who breaks the law will no longer be tolerated," Mr. Neufeld said. "Historically, cops believed that they could commit perjury on behalf of their brother officers with impunity. And when cops would testify falsely, even if the target was convicted, they would never be charged. This indictment sends a very strong message that the perjury statute will be vigorously enforced against police officers and not just civilians."

Mr. Wiese's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, scoffed at Mr. Neufeld's analysis, but he said he was not sure whether Mr. Wiese would testify at the next trial of Mr. Schwarz, his former patrol partner.

"We have no further legal proceedings of any sort for Mr. Wiese," Mr. Tacopina said. "Until we're invited to the dance, we're not making any decisions at this point about testifying."

Mr. Lynch, the police union president, released a brief statement criticizing the indictment and saying the union was confident Mr. Schwarz will be exonerated.

"It's a disgrace that Chuck Schwarz, who has already spent 33 months in prison for crimes he didn't commit, should be subjected to another vindictive prosecution by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District," the statement said.

Mr. Lynch's union last year paid $1.625 million to Mr. Louima to settle civil charges that union officials had helped cover up the attack. It was believed to be the first time a police union has paid a settlement of any amount to the victim of brutality. The union denied any wrongdoing.