BROOKLYN, N.Y. - 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
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.
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 officers has not