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#2774: Officer's Role in Louima Case Elusive, Even After Verdicts (fwd)


 Officer's Role in Louima Case Elusive, Even After
Charles Schwarz has been held up to the public eye as a Janus figure, a
man with two irreconcilable faces.To the federal prosecutors who
convinced a jury last year that he was guilty of helping torture Abner
Louima and then won another conviction against him this week for
covering up his role in the attack, Mr. Schwarz is a poster boy for
police misconduct -- a cop who not only willingly joined in one of the
most horrendous assaults in the New York Police Department's history,
but who then ensnared his colleagues in a web of self-serving lies to
try to get himself off the hook. But to his lawyers, his family and even
the other officers convicted in the notorious 1997 assault and its
cover-up, Mr. Schwarz is an entirely different man. His partisans and
colleagues say he is the  victim of an overly zealous federal government
-- an innocent and honest patrolman who was railroaded by a vengeful
team of prosecutors willing to forgo the truth to win their case.      
Mr. Schwarz, 34, is at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in        
Brooklyn, under lock and key 23 hours a day, facing a possible life    
sentence on the assault conviction and five years for the cover-up
conviction. His lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, has promised to overturn
 both verdicts, but with two juries having ruled against Mr. Schwarz,  
the chances of a successful appeal seem dim. Of course, it is possible
that the truth about Mr. Schwarz and his role in the attack, in which
Mr. Louima was sodomized with a broken broomstick in the bathroom of a
Brooklyn station house, lies somewhere between the extremes portrayed by
prosecutors and by  his supporters. The jurors in both trials were
granted anonymity by the court, so it is impossible to say exactly what
they believed about him. And after two trials, more than 100 pieces of
evidence and untold hours of courtroom arguments, many New Yorkers may
be left with a  frustrating sense that the truth -- cold and hard and
clean -- remains elusive.  There was a "Rashomon" quality to both
trials, as each person who spoke about what happened on Aug. 9, 1997,
came up with a different version of events. Not only did the accounts of
several  witnesses blatantly contradict one another, but there was a
gnawing feeling that no one could offer a complete version, from
beginning to end. 
>From the start, Mr. Schwarz loudly proclaimed his innocence -- as many
accused men do -- and he took the stand in his second trial to   
present his alibi to the jury: that he was not inside the 70th Precinct
station house at all during the time of the attack, but instead was
outside searching his squad car after a night out on patrol. 
Part of the murkiness of the Schwarz case lies with the nature of the  
jury system in which 12 ordinary people undertake the tough task of    
coming to a conclusion about extraordinary events. But part of the   
problem also lies with the general nature of the evidence introduced   
at the Louima trials. In the first trial, the case against Mr. Schwarz
was based on the accounts of Mr. Louima himself and of two officers who
said they had seen Mr. Schwarz leading Mr. Louima toward the bathroom  
where the attack took place -- but not into it. One of them, Detective
Eric Turetzky, testified to seeing Mr. Schwarz take the prisoner,
handcuffed with his pants and underwear around his knees, from the front
desk of the station house down a hallway that leads to the bathroom. The
second officer, Mark Schofield, recounted seeing Mr. Schwarz leading Mr.
Louima toward the hallway but not down it. For his part, Mr. Louima
testified that the officer who pinned him down during the assault was
the same one who had driven the patrol car that carried him from the
streets of Flatbush to the station house that night. Although police
records show that Mr. Schwarz was the driver -- and Mr. Schwarz, in
fact, testified at his second trial that he  was driving -- Mr. Louima
gave confusing accounts of the driver's identity under cross-examination
and said last year, when asked whether Mr. Schwarz was the driver, "It
looks like him, but I'm not sure." In the second trial, which concerned
a conspiracy to lie about the assault, the government based its case on
phone records showing a blizzard of calls among Mr. Schwarz and his
co-defendants, Thomas  Bruder and Thomas Wiese, as well as testimony
that the three officers met with union officials four days after the
attack.  While the government offered no tapes of the phone calls or   
witnesses who concretely said that a plot to obstruct justice was      
discussed at the meeting, they argued that the timing and circumstances
of both the calls and the get-together suggested that the officers were
joining forces to get their stories straight. Prosecutors also argued
that Officers Bruder and Wiese tailored their false accounts to conform
each time a new development arose in the investigation. The government
argued, for example, that on Aug. 15 -- six days after the attack --
Officer Bruder told Internal Affairs investigators that Justin A. Volpe,
who eventually pleaded guilty to the attack, marched Mr. Louima to the
bathroom alone. But on Aug. 18 -- just three days later -- Mr. Bruder
changed his story, the government said, and now related that Officers
Wiese and Volpe had escorted  the prisoner toward the bathroom door.    
The prosecution said that change, mirrored by a similar alteration in
Mr. Wiese's story, was made because the conspirators now had to  
account for two officers in the bathroom. In large degree, an assessment
of what exactly happened that night must depend on how one views the
testimony of Mr. Volpe, the only person who everyone agrees was there.
When he took the witness stand in the second trial, he testified, as  
expected, that Mr. Schwarz was not in the bathroom at all and was      
never involved in the attack. But within moments Mr. Volpe plunged the
courtroom into a new round of chaos when he said that Mr. Wiese, who
claims he walked in only after the attack, was, in fact, in the room the
entire time. At first blush, there would seem to be little reason to
disbelieve the testimony of Mr. Volpe, a man who pleaded guilty in open
court last May, who is already serving a 30-year prison term for his
crime,who apparently has nothing more to lose. "It has nothing to do
with friendship," he said of his testimony on the stand three weeks ago.
"It just has to do with doing what's right in my heart." But according
to federal prosecutors, Mr. Volpe's motives were far more sinister; they
said he was acting out of a desire to seek a lower sentence and an
abiding hatred for Mr. Wiese. Indeed, Mr. Volpe is expected to file
papers appealing his sentence this morning and might stand to gain by
having appeared contrite and helpful on the witness stand. Moreover,
early in the investigation, Mr. Wiese was the first patrolman to
approach the authorities with information about Mr. Volpe's role in the
attack. Clearly, there were more twists in the Louima case than in most
  high-profile cases, which may explain why both the prosecution and   
the defense in the second trial seemed genuinely confident of victory
until nearly the last moment. "Maybe we will never really know what
exactly happened," said Benjamin Brafman, a longtime New York criminal
defense lawyer,"and that's because the law does not demand proof beyond
all doubt,  but proof beyond a reasonable doubt."  Ask questions, give
answers and tell other readers what you know.