To search, type one or more key words below.
Search Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

Concern for Police Witness in Louima Case

This is a menu of the topics on this page (click on any): August 17, 2001, Friday    
Concern for Police Witness in Louima Case     By JIM DWYER    .

August 17, 2001, Friday

Concern for Police Witness in Louima Case


After 24 hours straight investigating the assault on Abner Louima, Capt. Barry Fried arrived home, loosened his tie, poured a cup of coffee and sat exhausted at his kitchen table.

A few minutes later, the phone rang with news that would shake his world: a probationary police officer had come forward to describe seeing Officer Justin A. Volpe wave a stick near the police station bathroom in which Mr. Louima had been brutalized.

At that very moment -- 3:30 in the morning of Aug. 15, 1997 -- the cooperating witness, Officer Eric Turetzky, was holed up in an office with investigators at the 70th Precinct station house, where the attack occurred.

Captain Fried, of the Internal Affairs Bureau, realized that his job was to get Officer Turetzky out of the building in one piece, before the officer changed his mind or became too intimidated to speak. The captain decided that this was too dangerous to do by himself, so he called for two trusted lieutenants to meet him outside the station house.

''I believed at that time that I was going to remove the officer from the precinct,'' said Mr. Fried, who now holds the rank of deputy inspector. ''I had some concerns both for the officer's safety and, frankly, for my own, and I brought these two lieutenants with me for that reason.''

This week, Inspector Fried and other police supervisors described for the first time the tense scramble ignited by that phone call in the dead of night, and the extraordinary steps to protect Officer Turetzky from violence inside his own precinct. The revelations that even police supervisors feared for their personal safety inside a New York station house threw a stark new shadow on a case that had already exposed the reluctance of many officers to cooperate with investigations of brutality.

The details emerged at a hearing yesterday and Wednesday in United States District Court in Brooklyn. Former Officer Charles Schwarz is asking Judge Eugene H. Nickerson to overturn his convictions in the case, which rested heavily on testimony by Officer Turetzky, who has since been promoted to sergeant. During a brief appearance yesterday, Sergeant Turetzky held to his original account, again naming Officer Schwarz as the man who led a half-naked Mr. Louima toward the toilets. [Page B4.]

The three investigators who first spoke to him also testified at the hearing, and while each version varied in details, all remembered the moment as high and tense drama.

By the time Officer Turetzky came forward, it was six days after the assault on Mr. Louima, who was sodomized with a stick by Officer Volpe. No police officer had revealed anything about the circumstances. A trustee of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association had gone to all the precinct's roll calls and told the officers, ''Sit tight and don't talk about it.'' A P.B.A. lawyer publicly suggested that his injuries had been inflicted at a ''gay men's night'' in the Club Rendez-Vous, where Mr. Louima had attended a concert.

During his meal break at 2 a.m. on Aug. 15, Officer Turetzky recalled, he went to the commander's office and found three supervising officers who were investigating the shooting of a dog. They recalled that Officer Turetzky nervously began to describe the events surrounding Mr. Louima's arrest and who had moved him around the station house.

As he was giving his account, there was a knock on the door, recalled a captain who was in the office, James Peters. ''I get out of my seat to try to make it to the door before it opens and he comes in prior to that,'' Captain Peters testified, saying it was a P.B.A. delegate, Timothy Lee.

''So as he comes in, he looks at Officer Turetzky and says, 'What are you doing? What's going on here?' ''

Officer Turetzky reacted strongly to the interruption. ''He was riveted on the delegate this entire time,'' Captain Peters said. ''He was staring the entire time.''

Captain Peters said he escorted the delegate out of the room, and then gave instructions to the desk sergeant that no one was to come near the door. By then, Officer Turetzky was ''pretty terrified, because everybody in the precinct knew'' he was cooperating, Captain Peters said.

Captain Peters and two sergeants in the room, Patrick Walsh and Richard Tully, decided to stop the interview, call the Internal Affairs Bureau and tell Captain Fried what they had learned.

They located Captain Fried at home, and after he was convinced that they had significant information, he tracked down two of his lieutenants who were still in Brooklyn and told them to meet him outside the station house.

Inside the station house, Inspector Fried recalled, he spoke for a few minutes to Officer Turetzky. ''I said, 'Are you willing to speak with me without a lawyer and without a P.B.A. delegate present?' He said to me, 'I won't talk to you with them present' -- words to that effect.''

A moment later, Captain Peters told Officer Turetzky that he should go upstairs to his locker and quickly gather his belongings. ''I said to him, 'You don't work here anymore,' '' Captain Peters testified. ''I knew he was not going back to that building.'' He sent two of the lieutenants and one of the sergeants with him.

Before he left, Officer Turetzky called his grandmother, to assure family members who had urged him to come forward that he was O.K.

When he left the office, however, the officer remembered, he was again confronted by Officer Lee, the P.B.A. delegate: ''Timmy came over to me and he said to me, 'What are you doing in there?' I told Timmy, 'You know what I'm doing in there.' And he said, 'Why?' ''

One of the investigators stepped between them. As Officer Turetzky climbed the stairs to his locker, another policeman from the precinct tried to follow. That officer was stopped by the investigators until they were assured by Officer Turetzky that he was a friend. (In his trial testimony, Officer Turetzky said that before coming forward, he had spoken about the situation with his partner and several other officers.)

After he packed his belongings, the ground floor of the station house was cleared as Officer Turetzky left for the last time. Under the protection of two lieutenants, two captains and two sergeants, he was hustled out the front door. With Officer Turetzky's vehicle between the cars of Captain Fried and one of his lieutenants, they set off in a caravan for the Internal Affairs office. There, Officer Turetzky gave a taped statement that became the pillar of the prosecution's case in three trials.

Organizations mentioned in this article:

Related Terms:

You may print this article now, or save it on your computer for future reference. Instructions for saving this article on your computer are also available.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top