Three Strikes Is Still an Out

One More Jury Convicts a Cop Without a Conscience

Thirty-six jurors have heard the case against Charles Schwarz, the "Hero Cop" of tabloid fame in the Abner Louima case, and 36 jurors have voted to convict him of at least one felony. None of the three juries that tried him has acquitted him of even a single count related to the sodomizing of Louima, though he was cumulatively charged with seven felonies connected to it. His post-verdict declaration of disappointment that he was convicted last week of the "small, technical charge" of perjury is an affirmation of the value this sworn law enforcement officer places on the truth.

Even the Court of Appeals that set aside his earlier convictions—on bizarre and highly technical grounds—found the evidence "plainly sufficient" that Schwarz and two other cops, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder, "agreed to impede" the federal probe "by corroborating a false version of what occurred." Although the thrice-convicted golden-boy cop loudly continues to portray himself as a victim, his attorney Ron Fischetti acknowledged in the aftermath of last week's verdict that Schwarz "finally got a fair trial," an admission incompatible with the repeated howls of innocence.

The latest Schwarz media drumbeat is that he should not be tried a fourth time on the three counts the most recent jury could not resolve—which focus on whether he participated in the bathroom assault. But while the government may decide to drop deadlocked charges when the jury has acquitted the defendant of the other counts, it does not usually abandon them when, as in this case, he was convicted on one count at trial and convicted on the still-unresolved counts in prior trials. U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad has already made clear the government's perfectly appropriate determination to try Schwarz again on a case they've won twice, tied once, and never lost.

The reason he was convicted again—this time of lying about whether he took the soon-to-be-brutalized Louima to the precinct bathroom in August 1997—was because seven witnesses put him there while only one said he wasn't.

Four of the witnesses were cops, including a police union delegate hostile to the government's case who admitted Schwarz told him he'd taken Louima in the direction of the bathroom. The others were a precinct clerk, an ex-cop close to Schwarz whom Schwarz called the night of the assault, and Louima himself, who could not identify Schwarz but said he was escorted by the driver of the car who brought him to the precinct (indisputably Schwarz). The two most important police witnesses to the Schwarz walk—Eric Turetzky and Mark Schofield—stepped forward early, without lawyers or any immunity requests, to nail Justin Volpe, the cop who lied for 21 months but eventually pleaded guilty to using a broomstick to shatter Louima's rectum and bladder.

Their blue-wall-breaking testimony, overcoming so much pressure one had to be safely escorted out of his own precinct never to return, was as believable about Schwarz as it had been about Volpe.

The only eyewitness to insist Schwarz wasn't there was Volpe himself, who was also the only witness with something to gain from his testimony. In a government tape of a prison phone conversation Volpe had with his father shortly before the trial, he says the lawyers "better start getting ready to do some strategizing and get me a reduction" of his 30-year jail sentence if they want his exculpating testimony. "If they think I'm falling on my sword again for nothing," Volpe rants, "they're out of their fucking minds."

Volpe testified that Schwarz's partner Wiese walked Louima to the room and stayed in it, doing nothing, while he alone sodomized Louima, a single-bullet theory contradicted even by the appeals court, which found the suggestion that the assault could have been committed by one man "implausible and factually unsupported." But Wiese did not testify, and Schwarz's lawyers chose not to even attempt to put a document summarizing Wiese's account before the jury, even though it had been submitted in the prior trial.

The Wiese version supported Schwarz's claim that Wiese walked Louima to the bathroom but contradicted Volpe, with Wiese claiming that he only entered the room after the sodomy, and that he stayed outside it throughout the assault and never even heard Louima scream. Had the defense put both Volpe and Wiese on the stand, their combined version would have been both inconsistent and inexplicable. The Wiese account, of course, came after Schwarz and Volpe were already arrested and was designed to clear everyone but Volpe, who was seen by other officers with either the broomstick or the gloves in his hands. It was not—as Schwarz's media allies have attempted to portray it—a mistaken-identity claim with Wiese putting himself in Schwarz's place. It was a calculated effort to save Schwarz without implicating Wiese.

What the jury essentially found was that Schwarz yanked Louima's pants and underwear to his knees while searching him, walked him down a hallway bare-assed with his arm bent in a chicken-wing fashion, and took a right down a second hallway where the bathroom was the sole unlocked door. With only Louima and Volpe testifying about what actually occurred in the bathroom, and Louima unable to identify his second assailant beyond being certain that it was the driver, some jurors obviously had doubts that it was Schwarz. Without a smoking-gun witness, this jury, unlike two prior ones, refused to follow the logic of the government's case.

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