Questionable worth of words
July 8, 2002
Perhaps we will never know with absolute certainty whether Charles Schwarz was the second officer in the bathroom in the 70th Precinct station house when Justin Volpe sodomized Abner Louima with a broom handle.
But as Schwarz's third, and hopefully his last, trial nears an end, what we do know with absolute certainty is that he and his fellow cops are a decidedly untrustworthy bunch.
Let's begin with Schwarz, on trial for the assault on Louima and perjury. Louima has never identified him, and Schwarz has consistently denied being in the bathroom when the attack occurred. But Schwarz has also denied leading Louima toward the bathroom, a denial contradicted by a precinct sergeant, two officers and a clerk.
Question one: Are those four witnesses mistaken, or is Schwarz lying?
Question two: If Schwarz is lying about that, is he lying about not being in the bathroom?
Next, let's turn to Schwarz's former partner, Thomas Wiese, one of the precinct's police union delegates. For months Wiese had hinted he would do the right thing and testify that it was he, not Schwarz, who was the second officer in the bathroom.
Instead, apparently heeding the advice of his attorney, Joe Tacopina, who told him he had nothing to gain by testifying and everything to lose, Wiese took a powder. What testimony was Tacopina so afraid of?
Well, Wiese says that during the assault he was outside the bathroom having such a good time playing with the precinct dog Midnight that he heard nothing.
Coincidentally, he says, he happened to enter the bathroom as Volpe's assault ended. Not for nothing did Tacopina fear that if Wiese testified to this, he'd be indicted for perjury.
Then, there's Volpe himself, brought in from federal prison to testify that it was indeed Wiese, not Schwarz, inside the bathroom. Contrary to Wiese, Volpe testified Wiese witnessed the entire assault and did nothing to stop it.
But Volpe's credibility was undercut by a not-so-secretly recorded telephone conversation that Volpe had from federal prison with his father, a so-called legendary former police detective.
In the conversation, Volpe demanded that his 30-year prison term be reduced in exchange for his testimony. Volpe may not be a rocket scientist. But how a "legendary" police detective remained oblivious to the fact that every outgoing telephone conversation from federal prison is taped is another mystery.
Finally, not to be outdone in the untrustworthiness line, there's the police Internal Affairs Bureau detective, who may have inadvertently provided Schwarz with his best shot at acquittal.
The detective, Lt. Reinaldo Daniels, wrote in his report that the man Louima described as the second officer in the bathroom stood 5-foot-7, a description that better describes Wiese, who is 5-foot-8, than Schwarz, who is 6-foot-1.
Although this was the most important case he will ever have, Daniels testified he had typed his report from memory without listening to the interview tape, and maintained he had mistakenly described Louima, who told him he was 5-foot-7.
That piece of information was whited out of Daniels' original report and only discovered by Schwarz' attorney at his second trial.
City Hall released a letter Bloomberg sent July 2 to Brion Travis, the parole board chairman, calling the crime "unforgivable" and urging he serve "the maximum sentence without parole."
Bloomberg says he wrote the letter because of one written to him by Piagentini's widow, Diane.
However, Piagentini wrote Bloomberg six weeks ago. Last week's One Police Plaza described Bloomberg as "decidedly cool" to speaking out on the subject in contrast to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Don't forget Denton. While people remember Jones and Piagentini, a reader notes that the case of Police Officer Robert Denton has "slipped under the radar."
Denton, who was assigned to the 73rd Precinct, was shot to death and nearly decapitated for no apparent reason by Richard Lloyd Dennis.
Denton was killed while leaving a grocery store in July 1971, the same year Jones and Piagentini were murdered.
Dennis, confined to Elmira Correctional Facility, has been coming up for parole every two years since 1996. He was last denied parole on June 11.
"The Sixth is a dream command for police officers of all sexual orientations ...diverse, interesting and great food. If you are a cop who happens to be gay you might try to transfer there sometime in your career in a mutually beneficial move for yourself or the community."
© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.