One in the Chamber

A reluctant witness to the alleged torture of Abner Louima contemplated suicide as the 'blue wall of silence' crumbled

An undercover cop, who prosecutors formally accused last month of lying to the FBI to protect colleagues charged with torturing Abner Louima, considered killing himself as the "blue wall of silence" crumbled around him in the wake of an FBI and NYPD investigation.

The Voice was the first to report Officer Rolando Aleman's gut-wrenching struggle with the code of silence that some say is the biggest nightmare in police officers' lives ("70th Precinct Confidential," February 24, 1997). Under the code, cops who "rat" on other cops are ostracized from the fraternity— and even, in extreme cases, set up to be killed.

"What are you gonna do when a 9mm is punched into my chest and I'm calling for help?" Aleman asked a prosecutor who had pleaded with him last summer to give up the names of others who allegedly helped sodomize the Haitian immigrant with the handle of a toilet plunger in the 70th Precinct station house on August 9, 1997.

"What are you gonna do?" Aleman demanded of his interrogator. "I have to go through my career being a rat?"

On December 16, frustrated federal prosecutors arrested Aleman, 28, and his partner Francisco Rosario, 35, and charged them with attempting to cover up the attack. The undercovers, members of an elite Brooklyn street crime unit, were in the 70th Precinct booking a suspect when officers Justin Volpe and Charles Schwarz allegedly dragged Louima into the station house. Aleman told the Voice he saw Volpe march Louima in and out of a bathroom and then into a cell with his "pants down, his penis hanging out." Prosecutors say Aleman and Rosario refused to cooperate with the investigation, and when they did, lied about what they saw.

"With everything piling down on me, pressures that I had— and with a newborn baby and my wife . . . arguing— I was getting stupid thoughts [about] ending it all," Aleman said in his interview with the Voice last February. But his story about life on the brink of self-destruction in the aftermath of the attack on Louima was never reported.

Every time Aleman remembered prosecutors wagging their fingers, implying threats, those "stupid thoughts" would entice him to commit suicide. But as he clung to life, Aleman, who sounds like a distraught figure in a Mike McAlary story about good cops gone bad, finally "realized I gotta stop." Aleman was being torn apart by the good cop-bad cop forces within him— those who urged him to do the right thing and those who constantly reminded him of rule number one:"See no evil, speak no evil."

"I gotta step back, I gotta reset myself," reasoned the man who was voted "Cop of the Month" in his precinct three times and received 10 meritorious duty awards and three stars for bravery.

Aleman turned to his brother officers— the ones who watch his back and always seem to know what's going on inside each other's heads.

"They were worried about me, calling me up; they saw I was on a short fuse," he recalls. All agreed that if Aleman wanted to defeat the demon, he had to get rid of a distressed cop's most seductive weapon— his gun.

"Take my guns from me when I'm off duty," he told one of his partners. "When I go back on duty, give me my guns back. I'll feel better." Aleman says that while on duty he opted to drive to minimize contact with people. He stuck to this routine for about two weeks.

Rolando Aleman's fellow officers weren't the only ones watching him. Prosecutors, the FBI, and NYPD Internal Affairs investigators had been trying to convince him that it was no longer about saving his job but salvaging what was still a stellar reputation.

And that meant coming clean when a mistake was made.

But the tormented officer felt prosecutors already had a diminished opinion of him. Investigators had been playing cat and mouse with Aleman. His evasive answers sent them scampering in all directions. But one evening as the investigation intensified, Aleman began to feel trapped. His partner, Rosario, had phoned him in a panic.

"You know you fucked up, right?" he recalls Rosario complaining.

"What happened?" Aleman inquired.

"FBI is outside my house," Rosario declared. "They're staking out my house." In fact, an FBI agent was at Rosario's front door. (Charles Hochbaum, an attorney for Rosario, did not return a Voice call for comment.)

According to Aleman, it was the same agent who tried to "flip" him to the government's side during one of their stormy meetings. Rosario told Aleman the agent said, "Rolly left in a piss and he said something like not being a rat." He says the agent advised Rosario, "You got a family, you got a kid. Don't follow the path of Rolly." (William J. Muller, executive assistant to U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, declined comment.)

Aleman and Rosario arranged to meet on Staten Island. Three hours later, according to Aleman, Rosario and another cop, a sergeant they both knew, arrived at the rendezvous.

"They showed up in [the sergeant's] car," recalls an astonished Aleman. "I wasn't comfortable with that." Aleman felt he was being set up. He says he did "what any criminal would do." He raised his T-shirt to assure the sergeant that he was clean. "Look, I ain't wearing any wires," he said. "You see that shit?"

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