One in the Chamber

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

The sergeant did not honor Aleman's invitation to offer proof that he also wasn't wearing a listening device. "This was real panicky now," Aleman says. "I was nervous."

In the back seat of the sergeant's car, Aleman carefully outlined the reason for the tense standoff with prosecutors and the FBI.

"Listen, these guys came at me hard," he told the officers. But Aleman grew more wary when the sergeant started asking leading questions that Aleman felt would incriminate him. "I had this eerie feeling that there's something wrong with [the sergeant] and it was like the way he was questioning us," Aleman remembers. "He knew all the answers. Why you asking them again?"

But the sergeant pressed the officers about the Louima incident. "Did you guys see anything?" he asked.

"No," Aleman replied. "I didn't see anything crazy. I told you everything that I saw."

The next day Aleman got a call from a PBA lawyer who had been assigned to represent him, saying there was a problem. "You were followed last night," Aleman quotes the lawyer as saying. "Something about you went to Staten Island and you all met up and they're [the feds] thinking about hitting you with a conspiracy charge."

The information confirmed Aleman's suspicions. "I started thinking about it," he says. "We weren't followed because I had somebody following me. It had to be [the sergeant]. Had to be. Then I realized, this motherfucker's cooperating and he was wired."

Aleman says that when he suspected his home phone was bugged he tricked the eavesdroppers. "It's like a little thing you learn in law enforcement," he explains. "You talk about one person in a very nasty way and hope they bring it out the next time."

Aleman became more paranoid and those deadly "stupid thoughts" that haunt troubled cops with guns began to gnaw at him. One day he noticed that Rosario looked worried, and he asked his partner if everything was alright between them.

"Bro, I'll talk to you later," Rosario responded. "You're already stressed out. I don't need to compound it with the shit I'm gonna tell you." But Aleman argued that not knowing would hurt him more. "Tell me what's going on," he demanded.

According to Aleman, Rosario told him about another visit from the sergeant, who had showed up at Rosario's house in a leisure suit around 11 o'clock one morning. The sergeant told Rosario that he was " 'gooming' today," cop slang for partying on a day off.

"Frank looks outside, and it's the Department car," Aleman explains. " 'Gooming' on Department time? This guy would never ever do that." The sergeant eventually got down to asking Rosario key questions about his and Aleman's presence in the 70th precinct station house on August 9. Why didn't they tell federal investigators and police detectives in the beginning that they saw Louima being led around the station house with his pants around his ankles?

"You know what, though, we didn't do anything wrong," Aleman recalls telling his partner. "We omitted that part, but you know what, that's our fault. We'll correct that."

During the meeting, Rosario allegedly asked the sergeant to remove his jacket. "He won't take off his jacket," Aleman says. "So Frank is like, 'Listen, I gotta go.' "

The sergeant, according to the story Rosario told Aleman, began to absolve one top prosecutor of any sinister motives. "This guy came off like a dick, but he really is a nice guy," the sergeant said. "They just want to get to the bottom of it." If the sergeant was not working undercover for Internal Affairs or the FBI, he sure was nosy.

"This motherfucker," Aleman fumes. "He had nothing to do with anything. He wasn't even in the precinct when it happened." To Aleman, the sergeant was trying to become part of the investigation, but did not seem to know how to go about ingratiating himself with him or Rosario. "I remember that day we get called down to a hearing and he goes, 'Listen, don't include me in anything. I wasn't there. Don't bother me with anything.' "

Federal prosecutors were threatening to lock up Rolando Aleman and Francisco Rosario for withholding evidence. But by the time Aleman eventually agreed to give Internal Affairs more snippets of what really happened at the 70th Precinct station house, the feds were demanding that he talk directly to them.

"Everybody is saying, 'Yeah, yeah, just go with the feds,' " Aleman recalls. "I knew right there we was getting thrown to the wolves. I knew it right there that everybody was being nice but nobody was doing the right thing for us. . . . The [PBA] realized now we got problems. We got two good cops who might get arrested."

This time around, the PBA hired Edward Jenks, the lawyer who had represented one of the police officers snagged in the 73rd Precinct "Morgue Boys" scandal. "I felt a lot better because I have a guy who has dealt with the feds, corruption, police, and brutality," Aleman says.

Prior to meeting with prosecutors, Aleman says he told Jenks, "They're not gonna like what I say." Aleman was planning to stick to his basic story. "I'm gonna tell them about the pants [being] down. I'll tell them about the cell area, but I really think they think we know more than we do," he told Jenks. The lawyer, he insists, urged him to be truthful.

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