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#2728: Federal jury finds 3 officers guilty of conspiracy in Louima case (fwd)
Federal jury finds 3 officers guilty of conspiracy in Louima case
March 6, 2000 Web posted at: 2:20 p.m. EST (1920 GMT)
NEW YORK -- A federal jury on Monday found ex-police officer Charles
Schwarz and two colleagues guilty of trying to cover up Schwarz's role
in the torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, who was sodomized in a
New York police station house on August 9, 1997. Schwarz, 34, and
officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder, both 37, were found guilty of
conspiracy to obstruct justice because they had claimed that Schwarz was
not present during the brutal attack. The penalty is up to five years
in prison. The jury's verdict was returned on the fourth day of
deliberations. Schwarz was convicted last year of holding Louima down as
fellow officer Justin Volpe rammed a broom stick up Louima's rectum in a
bathroom at the station house.
Schwarz has maintained that he was not in the bathroom during the
attack. In closing arguments, prosecutors had pointed to contradictory
statements made by the three officers -- along with nearly 60 phone
calls to each other right after the attack -- as evidence that the
three plotted to create an alibi for Schwarz. During their first day of
deliberations, jurors asked to review testimony by Sgt. William
Hargrove, the first investigator to interview Louima. The defense had
called Hargrove during the trial to try to cast doubt on Louima's
credibility by showing how some details of his account of the assault
Who was in the bathroom?
In both trials, Louima testified that the second officer in the bathroom
was the driver of a patrol car that brought him to the station house;
records show the driver was Schwarz. He also said that the same officer
took him -- with his pants down -- directly from the front desk toward
the bathroom. By contrast, Hargrove testified that a hospitalized Louima
told him in a bedside interview that when he first arrived at the
station house, he was thrown in a cell for 10 minutes. After that, the
victim alleged two officers took him into the bathroom and then pulled
his pants down. Schwarz's lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, tried to discredit
prosecution witnesses, including Louima. Fischetti pointed to errors
and misstatements throughout Louima's testimony. "Abner Louima was a
victim of a brutal assault," Fischetti told the jury, "but can you make
my client a victim, too? Can you convict my client beyond a reasonable
Defense: Case of mistaken identity
Louima was arrested in February 1997 during a nightclub brawl.
Ex-officer Volpe, now serving 30 years for assault and civil rights
violations, admitted he attacked Louima to "teach him a lesson,"
thinking Louima was the one who had punched him in the head during the
nightclub melee. Louima has always maintained there was a second officer
in the bathroom that night -- a man he believed to be the driver of the
squad car that brought Louima to the 70th Precinct station house.
Louima was shown a picture of Schwarz, driver of the squad car but not
one of his partner Wiese.Wiese, who has a similar build as Schwarz,
testified he walked into the bathroom, but only after the assault took
place. Defense attorneys in the obstruction trial argued it was a case
of mistaken identity and timing.
Overly zealous or desperate?
During rebuttal, Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegard accused
Wiese of making up his story, saying he had gotten too many details
wrong and was lying to "get Charles Schwarz out of that bathroom."
Calling defense attorneys "desperate" for calling Volpe to the stand,
Vinegard slammed Volpe's testimony that no one but Volpe touched Louima
in the bathroom that night. "He's still lying," Vinegard said. "Justin
Volpe may not have much to gain, but with 30 years in jail he doesn't
have much to lose. He's doing this to help himself to try and get a
lower sentence for what he did." Fischetti accused the government of
being overly zealous in its effort to arrest a second officer, adding
that in the case of Schwarz, "They got the wrong guy." Schwarz, an
eight-year NYPD veteran, is awaiting sentencing for his conviction in
the assault trial and plans to appeal that verdict.