The Wrong Man


A book should be written on the many 60 Minutes stories through the years that have resulted in the release of innocent prisoners and exposed other egregious miscarriages of justice. It is my hope that the next such liberation by 60 Minutes will be that of Charles Schwarz—convicted of being the other police officer in the bathroom when Justin Volpe tortured Abner Louima.

Volpe pleaded guilty and is now serving 30 years for that crime. Schwarz was sentenced to 15 years for aiding and abetting that horrifying assault and for a conspiracy with other cops to hide his guilt. I wrote in this column at the time that I thought Schwarz was the wrong man. Now I’m convinced. And according to 60 Minutes, five members of the jury that convicted Schwarz have come to the same conclusion.

The first 60 Minutes story was broadcast on CBS on August 24, 1997. At the top, Ed Bradley noted that the charge against Schwarz was that he allegedly held down Abner Louima, who was handcuffed, while Volpe “allegedly jammed the handle of a toilet plunger into [Louima’s] rectum and then shoved it into his mouth, breaking his front teeth.”

On that program, Schwarz unequivocally denied that he was in the bathroom. But another officer, Eric Turetzky, a rookie cop who was new to the police station, testified that he saw Schwarz take Louima, handcuffed, with his pants down around his ankles, toward the bathroom, but he didn’t see them go into the bathroom.

Schwarz’s lawyer at the time, Stephen Worth, told Ed Bradley that Turetzky had confused Charles Schwarz with his partner, Thomas Wiese. “They both have sandy-colored hair,” said Worth, “exactly the same shade. The same military cut.”

Ed Bradley then interviewed Charles Schwarz—on camera. Schwarz said he believed what Louima charged had happened to him in the bathroom. Schwarz gave no credence to the accusation—by some of the cops who brought Louima to the hospital—that his injuries had been caused by his having engaged in violent homosexual sex. Schwarz was not covering up for Volpe.

Schwarz then spoke about how Rudolph Giuliani and Howard Safir—characteristically and immediately—reacted after Schwarz was arrested. Referring to Schwarz and Volpe, Safir said: “I don’t consider this an act of police brutality. I consider this a criminal act committed by people who are criminals.” The mayor concurred.

Not surprisingly, said Schwarz, “The papers—the media—portray me as some type of animal. There’s no presumption of innocence for me.”

But, Schwarz continued, “In time, as this goes along, the truth is going to come out. The truth is I was not in that bathroom or anywhere near that.”

Ed Bradley ended that first 60 Minutes program in 1997 by pointing out that “Justin Volpe’s partner, Thomas Bruder, has reportedly said that he saw Officer Wiese, not Officer Schwarz, by the bathroom on the morning of August 9, thereby corroborating Schwarz’s story.”

The second 60 Minutes report on the case of Charles Schwarz aired on February 18 of this year. Thomas Bruder, Volpe’s partner on the night of the savagery committed against Abner Louima by Volpe, said on camera that the second officer escorting Louima to the bathroom from the precinct’s front desk was Thomas Wiese, not Schwarz.

Wiese himself then appeared on camera, admitting to being outside the bathroom but adding that he didn’t go inside until after Volpe had assaulted Louima. When he heard the banging, scuffling noises, Wiese went in and saw Volpe standing over Louima.

“The last place I remember seeing Police Officer Schwarz,” said Wiese, “was at the [precinct’s front] desk.”

Wiese told Bradley that since he knew Schwarz “participated in no kind of assault whatsoever,” he decided to tell what really happened to the police investigators from Internal Affairs. And Wiese told his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, that he was going to do just that.

At this point in the February 18 60 Minutes report, Joe Tacopina appeared on camera: “I said, ‘You’re crazy. There’s not one witness who says, you know, you’re near that bathroom. They don’t think you’re near that bathroom. You want to tell them you’re the second man? Are you reading the newspapers?’ And Wiese said, ‘Joe, if I didn’t do it, I would not be able to look myself in the mirror.’ And with that I said, ‘You know what, you’re the client. It’s your life, I’ll make the call.’ ”

Bradley asked if the NYPD investigators took Wiese’s statement right away. “No, they didn’t,” said Wiese.

“Wiese came forward,” Bradley continued, and “tried to tell authorities what he knew two days before Eric Turetzky gave his statement. But investigators didn’t talk to him until after Schwarz had already been arrested.” (Emphasis added.)

“Why,” Bradley continued, “remains a mystery. Particularly when taken in the context of the information investigators already had from Abner Louima, who was questioned at the hospital the day after the assault. Louima said that he could identify both men from photographs.”

Next on camera was Schwarz’s present attorney, Ronald Fischetti, who said: “In the hospital Louima was shown a picture of Chuck [Schwarz], whom he could not identify, and he was never shown a picture of Tommy Wiese.” (Emphasis added.)

Louima was questioned again by police investigators two days after the first interview. Bradley, using typewritten notes of that interview, let Ronald Fischetti take over: “Louima says the second person [in the bathroom] is five-seven, white, light crew-cut hair. That’s a pretty accurate description of Tommy Wiese. Chuck is over six feet tall, very broad.

But “after Tommy Wiese goes down and says, ‘I was the second person in the bathroom, not Chuck,’ they never go back to Louima and say, ‘We never showed you this photo [of Wiese]. Is this the second person?’ ”

To be continued.

Nat Hentoff’s subsequent column on Charles Schwartz, “The Witness Who Was Not Called.”