Special Report
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Posted September 23, 2002
               
On Eve of Trial, Ex-officer Agrees to Perjury
Term in Louima Case
                
By WILLIAM GLABERSON, THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK CITY, Sept. 22 - Under a last-minute agreement that gave prosecutors and defense lawyers the ability to avoid the uncertainties of a fourth trial of Mr. Schwarz, which had been scheduled to begin tomorrow, the government dropped an additional charge of perjury and two charges of violating Mr. Louima's civil rights. Prosecutors also said they would ask prison officials to recommend a reduction of the sentence to just under four years if Mr. Schwarz abides by the terms of the agreement.

One central condition of the deal essentially prohibits Mr. Schwarz from stating publicly that he is innocent of the civil rights violations, that he held Mr. Louima down while another officer, Justin A. Volpe, sodomized Mr. Louima with a broken broomstick.

In a half-empty courtroom just before 9 p.m., Judge Reena Raggi ended one of the longest and most wrenching legal battles in the city's recent history by formally sentencing Mr. Schwarz to five years.

"You were a police officer, sworn to uphold the law," she said, describing perjury as a crime that threatened the heart of the justice system. She said the perjury that Mr. Schwarz was convicted of in July had tarnished the honor of what she described as a great police department. A jury found that Mr. Schwarz had lied when he testified that he had not taken Mr. Louima to the bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse in Brooklyn, where the assault took place.

After last night's sentencing, Mr. Louima said he wished the case could have ended differently but was glad that it had finally come to a conclusion more than five years after he was assaulted on Aug. 9, 1997.

"This is not the way I want this to end," Mr. Louima said, a reference to the fact that Mr. Schwarz did not admit any culpability in the attack. But, he added, his long fight to help prosecutors win convictions in the case had sent a message. "Fighting a good fight," he said, "established the principle, so what has happened to me will not be tolerated and will never happen to my children or anyone else's children."

Two of Mr. Schwarz's prior convictions, for civil rights violations and obstruction of justice, were overturned in February. The jury that convicted him of the perjury count in July deadlocked on the three other charges that were to be the subject of the trial that was to have begun tomorrow.

The chief prosecutor, Alan Vinegrad turned aside questions about whether prosecutors had failed in their central goal because they had not won an admission from Mr. Schwarz that he was the so-called "second officer in the bathroom" during the sexual assault on Mr. Louima.

"This resolution," Mr. Vinegrad said, "brings about serious and significant punishment for Mr. Schwarz's role in the events surrounding this case and closure after many years of protracted and hard-fought litigation."

The agreement also bars prosecutors from publicly discussing the merits of the case.

Under the agreement between Mr. Schwarz and prosecutors, the government will almost certainly ask the court later to reduce that sentence to 47 months, which Mr. Schwarz's lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, said could mean that Mr. Schwarz would be free after 32 months in prison.

The deal reached last night resolved a case that is woven into the city's racial history.Judge Raggi referred to the attack as the "heinous crime, the brutal and humiliating sexual assault" of Mr. Louima, a Haitian immigrant, by a white police officer.

But because the agreement did not include a statement by Mr. Schwarz of culpability for taking part in the assault itself, it also left many questions surrounding the case without definitive answers from the legal system. The central unanswered question remained which police officer accompanied Mr. Volpe, the white police officer who pleaded guilty to the assault and is serving 30 years in prison, into the Brooklyn police station bathroom.

As she was accepting the deal worked out through the day by lawyers on both sides, Judge Raggi said it represented a vindication of the notion that citizens and police officers in particular cannot distort the justice system with perjury. "The American system of justice," she said, "depends on witnesses telling the truth."

She told Mr. Schwarz that the perjury conviction in July meant a jury had found that "you lied about your involvement with Abner Louima."

Outside of court, the Rev. Al Sharpton, surrounded by lawyers for Mr. Louima, acknowledged the murkiness of the outcome. "There are no winners here," he said, "but hopefully, the blue wall of silence has been permanently damaged."

As part of their agreement, the prosecutors withdrew the two civil rights charges asserting that Mr. Schwarz took Mr. Louima into the bathroom and then restrained him while Mr. Volpe assaulted him.

But the prosecutors wrested from the defense the unusual agreement that effectively bars Mr. Schwarz, his wife, Andra, and his lawyers from claiming publicly that he is innocent of those charges.

Judge Raggi said she took no position on that part of the arrangement. But it gave prosecutors some assurance that Mr. Schwarz will remain far from the media, which has been one of the defense's most potent tools. The defense often embarrassed prosecutors by persuading sympathetic reporters that Mr. Schwarz was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Standing between his lawyers in the courtroom last night, Mr. Schwarz was nearly silent, saying only "yes, your honor" and "no, your honor," as Judge Raggi questioned him about whether he understood the sentencing agreement.

Later, outside of court, Mr. Fischetti said he was very pleased with the agreement. "This is in no way an admission of guilt," he said.

His client faced the five-year sentence on the perjury count no matter what happened in the trial that was scheduled to begin tomorrow. If Mr. Schwarz had been convicted of the more serious civil rights charges, he could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Mr. Schwarz had served 33 months of a 15-year sentence when his previous two convictions were overturned. As part of the deal reached last night, he agreed that he would not get credit for that time in the new sentence. Judge Raggi said he would be required to report to prison on Dec. 4.

The case began in the early hours of Aug. 9, 1997, in a crowd gathered outside a Flatbush Avenue nightspot called Club Rendez-Vous. After a scuffle with officers, Mr. Louima, then 33, was handcuffed and taken to the 70th Precinct stationhouse. Mr. Volpe has testified that he was in a rage because he believed Mr. Louima had hit him during a melee between officers and some of those in the crowd. In court, the prosecutors eventually proved that

Mr. Volpe was wrong; someone else had thrown that punch.

Almost immediately, the prosecutors said in trial after trial, officers in the precinct fell into line behind what has long been called the blue wall of silence. They said there were conspiratorial telephone calls and lies to investigators. There were efforts, they said, to smear Mr. Louima even as he struggled to recover from the life-threatening injuries.

Mr. Louima and many other people swept up in the events were caught making statements they later regretted. Mr. Louima's most famous was his reference to Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was then the mayor, that he later acknowledged had been invented by an adviser who told him it was the only way to draw attention to the case. He said that the officers who had attacked him had said it was "Giuliani time."

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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