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#2768: Verdict Divides Officers but Leaves Few Happy (fwd)


March 7, 2000 ____ NY TIMES
 Verdict Divides Officers but Leaves Few Happy____ By C. J. CHIVERS 

  Four police officers leaned back on their bar stools, cross-armed,   
and watched a television news reporter deliver the news.Three officers
had just been found guilty of conspiring to cover up the attack on Abner
Louima in the men's room of a Brooklyn police station in 1997. All three
now faced federal prison terms. The officers on the bar stools kept
straight faces. But as the bartender in Baxter's Pub in Manhattan turned
up the volume on the television in the corner, they heard the remarks of
Ronald P. Fischetti, the lawyer for one of the defendants, Charles
Schwarz. Mr. Schwarz, Mr. Fischetti said, was so devastated by the
verdicts that the lawyer asked for his client to be placed under a
suicide watch in his jail cell.Straight faces dissolved. One of the four
officers looked down and inhaled deeply on a cigarette. Another drank
deeply from his beer."It's a shame," he said, shaking his head. "A
shame." Themes of shame and disappointment rolled through the New York
 Police Department yesterday as the police reacted to news that Mr.    
Schwarz, a former police officer, and Officers Thomas Bruder and     
Thomas Wiese had been convicted of conspiring to conceal the      
attack on Mr. Louima, who had a broken broomstick rammed into his rectum
by Officer Justin A. Volpe after an arrest in 1997. 
Police Commissioner Howard Safir released a one-paragraph statement in
which he condemned Mr. Volpe's conduct but expressed confidence in the
department's Internal Affairs Bureau and the criminal justice system.
"There is not a police officer of good conscience who would not be
disgusted by this abhorrent behavior and any effort to conceal it," the
statement concluded. But in two bars frequented by police officers and
at posts and  precinct station houses in Manhattan and in Brooklyn,
officers on  duty and off had a more complicated view. 

The officers, none of whom would give their names, lamented that the
department has had to endure two scathing trials in recent weeks: that
of the four officers who fatally shot Amadou Diallo last year, and that
of the three officers convicted yesterday of conspiracy. And they were
unanimous in the opinion that the prosecutions have made being a police
officer a more difficult job. "With all that's  going on, our lives have
gotten tougher," said a transit officer near an entrance to the City
Hall stop on the N and the R subway lines.  "We're catching more
comments, more dirty looks." But opinions diverged after that. Some said
the convictions had  shaken their faith in the jury system, and
underscored their belief that police officers could not get a fair trial
in New York. Others chose a middle ground, saying that Mr. Volpe had
brought disrepute to their department, and that now he had done the same
to  three fellow officers at the 70th Precinct. One officer on patrol in
 Chinatown near the entrance to Baxter's called Mr. Volpe simply      
"an animal." "He did a horrible thing," the officer said. "He lied about
it. He  covered it up. And now he brought a lot of other guys down with
him."  Mr. Volpe testified in defense of the three officers who federal
prosecutors said had conspired to obstruct the government's case.      
Therein was the problem, some of the officers said yesterday. Basically
the guy had no credibility, and the jurors didn't believe him," another
transit officer, near the City Hall subway station, said. "He ruined
their case." 
 While all the officers agreed that Mr. Volpe was a disgrace, a man   
reviled by them and the jurors alike, many said his three peers should
have been acquitted. Others, though, were cheered by the convictions. A
14-year veteran in the 76th Precinct in Carroll Gardens said the jurors
"did their job." "If there was evidence of a conspiracy," the officer
added, "these men should pay the price." Another officer, in Manhattan,
said she could think of no way that  the three men had not, at a
minimum, heard "all that ruckus in the men's room" when Mr. Louima was
being assaulted. "There is nothing worse than a crooked cop," she said.
"I think it's good what happened. All they had to do was get up the next
day,pick up the phone, and call Internal Affairs. They would have
 walked scot-free, just like we're taught in the Academy." Asked how the
convictions made the department appear to outsiders, the officer sighed
and echoed the feeling in Baxter's: Mr. Schwarz  needed a suicide watch.
And the department, she said, could use a new image. "It's a shame," she
said. "This hurts every one of us."