The New York Times

April 3, 2002


Ex-Policeman Pleads Not Guilty in NY Torture Case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former New York police officer Charles Schwarz pleaded not guilty in federal court on Wednesday to charges that he lied on the witness stand about his role in the torture of a Haitian immigrant in a Brooklyn police precinct bathroom.

Schwarz, dressed in a dark suit and accompanied by his wife Andra, paused outside the courthouse and told reporters he did not participate in the torture of Abner Louima in 1997.

``I was not in that bathroom,'' Schwarz said, referring to the precinct house bathroom where Louima was sodomized with a broken broomstick. ``I've been saying that since the beginning and nothing the government says or does is going to change that fact. I plan on being vindicated.''

The attack on Louima, which triggered widespread racial tensions and demonstrations in New York, continues to reverberate through the courts. Louima, who is willing to testify again, now lives in Florida.

Separately, another former officer connected to the attack, Francisco Rosario, on Wednesday was granted a new hearing in federal court. He was convicted in 1998 of conspiring to make false statements, and making false statements, about the attack.

Rosario, who was present at the 70th precinct station house at the time of the assault on Louima, initially told federal investigators he was not there. He said he agreed to a second interview with investigators based on the government's promise of immunity, according to court papers.

However, Rosario was sentenced to probation last year for misleading investigators. Court papers said the government did not consider his statements to be truthful, nullifying any immunity agreement they may have made.

The Second Court of Appeals ordered the new hearing.

Former police officer Justin Volpe confessed he tortured Louima and is now in prison. The question that continues to arise is whether Volpe acted alone.

The two perjury charges allege that Schwarz lied in court when he said he did not escort Louima to the precinct bathroom, and that he was never in the bathroom with Louima. Schwarz also faces a retrial on charges he violated Louima's civil rights in the attack.

Schwarz was convicted in 1999 of conspiring to obstruct a grand jury investigation and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

But that conviction was overturned last month by a federal appeals court, which ruled Schwarz had been denied effective legal representation due to a conflict of interest by his former defense attorney.

Schwarz is currently out on $1 million bail -- secured by the home of family members.

``This case has consumed almost five years of my life including almost three years of incarceration and I've been saying from day one I'm innocent ... I intend to fight this through,'' he said.

U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad is seeking to have the perjury case consolidated with Schwarz's retrial on violating Louima's civil rights, set to begin June 24. Defense attorney Ronald Fischetti opposes any such move.

The next court date is set for April 12, where the issue of whether the case should be consolidated will be considered.