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#2727: Officers convicted of obstruction of justice in Louima sodomy case (fwd)


Updated March 6, 2000, 1:38 p.m. ET 
Officers convicted of obstruction of justice in Louima sodomy case 

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (Court TV) After over 20 hours of deliberations over
three days, a Brooklyn federal jury convicted three NYPD officers     
of obstruction of justice in the sodomy of Haitian immigrant Abner     
Louima. Federal prosecutors believed that Thomas Bruder, Thomas Wiese
and Charles Schwarz lied about their knowledge of Louima's beating in
the two years after the victim was attacked in Brooklyn's 70th precinct
bathroom. According to federal prosecutors, Bruder and Wiese lied to  
investigators in an attempt to protect Schwarz. Schwarz was accused and
convicted on civil rights charges and conspiracy for standing guard at
the bathroom door and holding Louima down while his partner Justin Volpe
sodomized him with a broken wooden stick. Bruder and Wiese were accused
of beating Louima on the way to the 70th Precinct but were acquitted of
the charges at trial in June. Specifically, the officers are accused of
secretly speaking to each other in the week following the attack in a
conspiracy to mislead investigators. Prosecutors produced phone records
as proof that the officers called each other to arrange the conspiracy.
However, the records only show that certain calls were in fact made, not
what was said during these phone  conversations  there are no
transcripts. Lawyers for the officers said the timing and frequency of
the phone calls proved nothing because the  prosecution did not know
specifically what the defendants discussed.  In over three days of
deliberations, jurors requested five readbacks,focusing mainly on
testimony on Schwarz's actions just before Louima's attack. They focused
on the testimony of Detective Eric Turetzky. The officer testified that
he only saw Schwarz walk Louima towards the bathroom, not take him into
it. His testimony contradicted what he said at the civil rights trial
last year. Turetzky's testimony at last year's trial arguably led to
Schwarz's conviction of civil rights violations. At that time, he said
he saw Volpe brandish a broken broomstick and lead Louima from the
bathroom to the  prison cell. In a taped interview with the police
Internal Affairs Bureau, he claimed he saw Schwarz take Louima into the
bathroom.  At this year's obstruction trial, Turetzky also claimed that
members of the  police union pressured him to keep silent about the
case. Justin Volpe's brother, Damian, a member of the Patrolmen's
Benevolent Association,asked him to "do the right thing" and "stick
together." Turetzky interpreted the advice as a plea to help cover-up
Volpe and other officers' role in Louima's beating and sodomy.        
Jurors also asked to rehear the testimony of Sgt. William Hargrove, the
first Internal Affairs Bureau investigator to interview Louima, and Desk
Sgt. Jeffrey Fallon. According to Hargrove, Louima claimed he was put in
a cell at the 70th Precinct for 10 minutes before being taken to the 
bathroom by two officers and sodomized. In other accounts, Louima 
claims he was taken directly from the front desk to the bathroom.   
Fallon described how Louima was brought into the station house, brought
to the front desk and escorted to the back of the precinct where the
cells and bathroom are located.  On Friday, jurors focused on Bruder and
Wiese, reviewing testimony of testimony about what officer Bruder told
the FBI and what officer Wiese  told the Brooklyn DA's office about the
events of Aug. 7, 1997. Schwarz's latest conviction devastates his plans
to clear his name.  Confident that he wouldn't be convicted of
obstruction of justice,Schwarz and his attorney Ron Fischetti saw this
trial as an opportunity to prove that he was not involved at all in the
attack on Louima. At the obstruction, Schwarz spoke out for the first
time on the attack,testifying that he was not even in the 70th Precinct
stationhouse when the attack occurred. Schwarz claimed he was outside
searching his patrol car for any weapons that prisoners may have hidden
in the backseat or underneath the front seats during transportation.   
Though Schwarz admitted that he brought Louima to the front desk of the
 70th Precinct, the former officer claimed he left him there after
searching him. He denied bringing Louima to the rear of the
stationhouse. When Schwarz's attorney Ron Fischetti asked who brought
Louima to the rear of the stationhouse, Schwarz said he thought it was
Wiese. Justin Volpe, who pleaded guilty during the civil rights trial
last year and is currently serving a 30-year sentence, told jurors that
Schwarz was wrongfully convicted and that Wiese was in the bathroom and
saw him sodomize Louima. According to Volpe, Wiese stood by and watched
the attack and did nothing to stop it. Prosecutors, however, stressed to
jurors that Volpe had no credibility and had lied repeatedly during the
investigation. Apparently, jurors did not   believe Volpe and Schwarz. 
 Neither Wiese nor Bruder testified at both trials. Wiese claimed in   
previous statements that he walked into the 70th Precinct bathroom after
the attack and did not realize what had happened. Tacopina pointed out
in his summations that Wiese put himself in a compromising position by
 telling this to investigators. According to Tacopina, Volpe was out to
punish his client for singling him out to authorities as the instigator. 
 Louima himself was never been able to identify Schwarz decisively as 
one of his attackers in the bathroom. Louima only said during the
criminal civil rights trial that the attacker resembled the driver of
the car that took him to the 70th Precinct. Records show that the driver
of that car was Schwarz. During the obstruction trial Louima suggested 
for the first time  that a third officer was involved in the bathroom
attack. He said that someone opened and closed the bathroom door as
someone held him and Volpe attacked. However, Louima could not see the
person's face and again failed to positively identify Schwarz as Volpe's
accomplice. The convictions come 10 days after an Albany jury acquitted
four NYPD officers of all charges in the Bronx shooting death of West
African immigrant Amadou Diallo. At a post-verdict press conference,
Fischetti suggested that the Diallo verdict as well as anti-police
sentiments citywide after the acquittals may have influenced the jury's
decision. [The federal jury was not sequestered.] Fischetti said that
Schwarz and   his family were "devastated' by the conviction and they
are disappointed in the justice system. Fischetti said that he is
"utterly convinced" that Schwarz wasn't in the bathroom during the
attack and will appeal the nviction "until doomsday." "Any fair-minded
person knows that Chuck is not guilty of these charges, that he wasn't
in the bathroom at the time of the attack," Fischetti said. "I don't
know what the jury was thinking, whether it had something to do with
[the Amadou] Diallo [verdict], what's been going on with police or      
the media. But Chuck and his family are very devastated; he says he has
 twice been convicted for something he didn't do." Fischetti added that
Schwarz's state of mind "wasn't good" and that he was on a suicide
Sanford Rubenstein, Louima's attorney in his civil suit against New York
City, said that the verdict sends a clear message to police officers
that they cannot try to protect their own, especially if they are on the
wrong side of the law. Police officers, he said, have to know that they
cannot violate the oath of their badge and think they can get away with
it. Bruder, Wiese, and Schwarz each face up to five years in prison. In
addition, Schwarz faces 25 years to life in prison for civil rights
violations in his alleged role in Louima's attack. A sentencing date for
the officershas not been determined.