By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Just last summer he was the Great White Hope, the "bombshell" witness the tabloids told us would finally clear ex-cop Charles Schwarz of participating in the station-house sodomizing of Abner Louima. Four years after the horrid events of August 1997almost to the dayWalsh took the stand in Brooklyn Federal Court. It was a special hearing ordered by the Circuit Court of Appeals after lawyers for the then jailed Schwarz claimed they had uncovered evidence hidden from them at trial by federal prosecutors, namely the exculpatory account of former Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigator Walsh.
Ron Fischetti, Schwarz's attorney, called Walsh a hero. So did the tabloid chorus, with columnists screaming that the government had deliberately ignored Walsh because he undermined their case. In the end, Walsh was a wash, one more discredited defender of the twice-convicted Schwarz, one more signal that the Schwarz camp manufactured myth.
Walsh was one of the first investigators to question pivotal witness Eric Turetzky, the first cop to step forward against Schwarz and Justin Volpe, who later pled guilty to ramming a broomstick up Louima's rectum in the 70th precinct bathroom. Walsh claimed that Turetzky, who put Schwarz near the bathroom at both trials, told him shortly after the incident that he was unsure whether Schwarz or Tom Wiese, another cop involved in the case, walked Louima to the bathroom. That version fit perfectly with Schwarz's mistaken-identity defense, which revolved around Wiese.
By his own account, Walsh was drawn into the case in February 2001 by Schwarz's brother-in-law, Richard Bruno, who a approached him while he was tending bar in Staten Island. Bruno, also a Brooklyn cop, had known Walsh for years. Seven months prior to the conversation with Bruno, Walsh, a mere 37 years old, had retired on disability from the NYPD, crippled by cirrhosis of the liver. A liver scan 10 years earlier had confirmed the cirrhosis, but Walsh kept drinking, forcing his brother, also a cop, to get him into the NYPD's alcohol counseling unit in May 1999.
After their initial conversation at the bar, Bruno and Walsh kept talking about him coming forward. Bruno promised him a lawyer at no cost; Fischetti's firm helped Walsh to find one. Bruno picked Walsh up at home, took him to a meeting with Schwarz's lawyers, stayed for the meeting, and drove him back home. Schwarz's lawyers filed a sealed affidavit from Walsh last April, seeking to free the jailed Schwarz.
Walsh hadn't said a word about Turetzky's supposed confusion when Schwarz was convicted in two ballyhooed trials, claiming that he "was always waiting for someone to knock on the door." He even blamed his drinking on his Turetzky secret, testifying that "this case haunted me," though Walsh's counselors indicated he never mentioned it. He claimed he told "so many people" in Brooklyn South, where he worked, that he "couldn't even remember the names." The only two he could nametwo supervisors, Inspector Edward Mezzadri and Captain Delayne Hurleydenied that he'd ever relayed any concern about Turetzky's statements to them.
But they were just two of the seven witnesses who challenged Walsh's credibility. Neither Walsh's partner nor Schwarz's captain, both of whom interviewed Turetzky with Walsh, corroborated his version of events, with Captain James Peters saying that Turetzky was answering questions about how Louima got from the bathroom to the holding cell, not from the front desk to the bathroom. Two IAB officials involved in the Louima probeCaptain Barry Fried and Lieutenant John Polovoyalso flatly rebutted Walsh's contentions that he'd spoken to them about his Turetzky interview. Walsh's claim that Fried had told him not to write up his notes from the interview was not supported by anyone else, and dismissed by Fried.
Turetzky, who came forward without an attorney and without seeking immunity, also countered Walsh, saying, as did Fried, that he was briefly confused about who led Louima to the cell (Volpe did), never who escorted him to the bathroom. District Court Judge Eugene Nickerson, who presided at the trials and the Walsh hearing, found Turetzky's testimony "reliable, consistent and wholly credible."
In a 34-page opinion rejecting Schwarz's motion, Nickerson recounted a host of misleading statements Walsh made about his own alcoholism as well as "the material disparities between his and all other witnesses' versions of the same events." Saying that "the severity of Walsh's alcoholism" was "relevant to his ability to perceive and remember accurately," Nickerson found his testimony "unconvincing, to say the least." Walsh was such a disaster that even the appeals court that ordered the hearing barely mentioned him in its ultimate decision, reversing the convictions on technical rather than evidentiary grounds.
The gambitpitting a bad cop against a good onemiraculously did no damage to the Schwarz innocence campaign, whose tabloid cheerleaders remember less than Walsh. They were just as forgiving about Schwarz's dependence on another bad cop, Anthony Abbate, dismissed from the force for lying but the first person Schwarz called when he knew he was in trouble. Not even the astounding testimony on Schwarz's behalf by Justin Volpe, who appeared at the second, obstruction-of-justice trial, could diminish the press enthusiasm for the golden boy of the PBA.
Volpe testified that it was the rear-handcuffed Louima, not he, who repeatedly screamed "Fuck you" in the bathroom prior to the sodomizing, and that, even more amazingly, Louima never made so much as a sound when his rectum and bladder were shattered. Volpe denied that he kicked Louima in the groin, or that anyone helped him assault Louima, though the medical evidence establishes that Louima was kicked and couldn't have been sodomized by only one cop. Volpe admitted he'd deceived his own family, colleagues, and lawyers for 21 monthseven concocting the despicable lie that Louima was injured in a homosexual act prior to his arrest. While Volpe's testimony apparently contaminated Schwarz in the eyes of jurors, it has had no effect on Schwarz's media hucksters.
The Schwarz team will have to decide whether Walsh or Volpe will help if called as witnesses at the upcoming trial, scheduled for June. The biggest challenge the government facesaside from cop journalists mesmerized by their PBA sourcesis that politics may break up its team. Senator Chuck Schumer is considering George Pataki's nominee to replace the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Alan Vinegrad, who personally tried both Louima cases and won. The suggested replacement, Roslynn Mauskopf, has no experience as a federal prosecutor. She qualified for Pataki's nomination by serving for the last six years as his very tame inspector general, where she's managed to make far more friends at the highest levels of the administration than cases.
State Comptroller Carl McCall, Martin Luther King III, Andrew Young, and the leadership of the state's Black and Latino Legislative Caucus are opposed to her nomination. The only known case she's ever had involving the PBA was in 1987, when she was working for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on a probe of then powerhouse PBA counsel Richie Hartman. Hartman, who was accused of stealing his clients' escrow accounts and has since been convicted in a federal racketeering case, was given a pass by Morgenthau and forced merely to surrender his law license.
Pataki has nominated an even less qualified candidate for U.S. attorney upstatea deputy tax commissioner without a day of prosecutorial experience who ran to Florida in 2000 to do ballot work for the Bushes, just as she did in the 1998 electoral war launched by Attorney General Dennis Vacco. The governor had a pathetic one-man screening panelJohn O'Mara, the lobbying partner of former senator Al D'Amatoreview these prestigious appointments. Yet Schumer, who chairs a key Senate judiciary subcommittee, may acquiesce on Mauskopf.
If he does, and neither Schwarz nor the other Louima cops are successfully retried, the senator's selective attempt at "bipartisanship" will come at a very heavy social cost.
Research assistance: Martine Guerrier, Lauren Johnston, Peter G.H. Madsen, Jess Wisloski