The New York Times

April 4, 2002

Prosecutors File Charges in Attack on Louima


Declaring that he would not bow to pressure from prosecutors, the former Police Officer Charles Schwarz pleaded not guilty yesterday to new perjury charges that were filed against him in the Abner Louima abuse case last week.

At the same time, his defense lawyers condemned the new charges as an effort by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to intimidate other former officers who might testify for Mr. Schwarz with the prospect that they, too, might face charges of lying in court.

After an appeals court decision in February overturning his two prior convictions, Mr. Schwarz was already facing a retrial this June on civil rights charges that he joined Officer Justin A. Volpe in the attack on Mr. Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn on Aug. 9, 1997.

"I've been saying from Day 1 I'm innocent," Mr. Schwarz said after his brief court appearance. "I intend to fight this through. I was not in that bathroom. I've been saying that since the beginning and nothing the government says or does is going to change that fact."

The response by Mr. Schwarz's legal team yesterday was an anticipated hardball answer to tough prosecution tactics that have been on display for the last week. The perjury charges were followed this week by reports that the prosecutors had offered a deal to Thomas Bruder that would allow him to plead to lesser charges. Mr. Bruder is one of two former officers who were tried with Mr. Schwarz two years ago on obstruction of justice charges.

The plea offer, which Mr. Bruder's lawyer has said he rejected, was widely seen as an effort by the prosecutors to try to break the unity of the three former officers.

The prosecutors argued yesterday that the new perjury charges against Mr. Schwarz should be combined in the civil rights trial that is to begin in June. But the defense lawyers said they would ask the judge to dismiss the perjury charges as vindictive.

Yesterday, the federal judge in the case, Reena Raggi, continued the $1 million bail she set last month on the civil rights charges, which accuse Mr. Schwarz of leading Mr. Louima to the assault and holding him down during it.

The perjury charges assert that Mr. Schwarz lied when he testified that he had not led Mr. Louima to the bathroom and was not present while Mr. Volpe sodomized Mr. Louima with a stick.

In addition to overturning Mr. Schwarz's civil rights conviction in its February ruling, the appeals court also overturned the obstruction of justice convictions of Mr. Schwarz, Mr. Bruder and another former officer, Thomas Wiese.

The prosecutors have not yet said whether they plan to file new charges on claims that the officers lied to investigators. But the offer to Mr. Bruder indicated that the prosecutors were still pursuing that legal avenue.

Yesterday, Mr. Schwarz's lawyers attacked the perjury charges as a vindictive strategy intended to prejudice jurors and to punish Mr. Schwarz for defending himself.

"Once more, it is an attempt to deny Chuck Schwarz a fair trial," said one of Mr. Schwarz's lawyers, Ronald P. Fischetti. "What it is is a warning for tactical advantage that anyone who takes the stand and says Chuck Schwarz is innocent will be indicted for perjury."

Mr. Fischetti said the tactic was aimed at intimidating Mr. Wiese, Mr. Bruder and Mr. Volpe, "and other witnesses we would have wanted to call."

Alan Vinegrad, the United States attorney, declined to respond to Mr. Fischetti's remarks.

Mr. Wiese in particular has been considered a critical witness for Mr. Schwarz, because Mr. Wiese has said he went into the bathroom after the assault and did not see Mr. Schwarz.

Joseph Tacopina, the lawyer for Mr. Wiese, declined to comment on what effect the perjury charges against Mr. Schwarz might have on Mr. Wiese's willingness to testify, if any. He said it was premature to discuss whether Mr. Wiese would testify at Mr. Schwarz's trial.

In a prosecution filing yesterday, Mr. Vinegrad argued that Mr. Schwarz's June 24 trial on the civil rights charges should include the new perjury charges. In the filing, the prosecutors said they would offer substantially the same evidence to try to prove that Mr. Schwarz had participated in the attack as they would to try to prove that he had lied about his participation.

"Consolidating the two indictments," the filing said, "will best serve the administration of justice and will not prejudice the defendant." In an apparent response to defense claims that the perjury charge was an unusual tactic, the prosecutors said that "more often than not" when perjury charges were filed they were against defendants charged with lying about crimes for which they were prosecuted.

But a defense lawyer, Diarmuid M. White, told the judge the defense would argue the perjury charges should be dismissed. He said the charges were vindictive, an abuse of the grand jury process and prejudicial because of the length of time between Mr. Schwarz's testimony in 2000 and the indictment last week.

Lawyers not involved in the case have suggested that the prosecutors may have wanted to include the perjury charges not only as a message to other potential witnesses but also to provide room for negotiation with Mr. Schwarz.

The presence of the perjury charges would make it possible for Mr. Schwarz to acknowledge a misstatement without acknowledging participation in the sexual assault.

But Mr. Fischetti said yesterday that his instructions from his client were not to negotiate with the prosecutors about pleading guilty to anything. When the appeals court overturned his conviction, he had served 33 months of a 15-year prison term.

"Chuck has said," Mr. Fischetti told reporters, "he'd rather go back and do the rest of his time than ever say he's guilty."