NEW YORK – After nearly three years behind bars, a white former police officer whose conviction in the torture of Abner Louima was thrown out on appeal was freed on $1 million bail Thursday to await a new trial.
U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi agreed to release 36-year-old Charles Schwarz but restricted him to New York City and a home in an unidentified suburb. The bail was secured with his mother's house.
"Today's a great day. I've been waiting for this day for 33 months," a smiling Schwarz said as he left the courthouse to applause from supporters and jeers from a smattering of protesters.
His retrial in one of the city's most notorious police brutality cases is set for June.
U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad tried unsuccessfully to have Schwarz placed under house arrest.
Schwarz was one of four white officers sentenced to prison in connection with the attack on Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was sodomized with a broken broomstick in a Brooklyn police station bathroom in 1997. Schwarz was accused of holding down Louima while Officer Justin Volpe brutalized him.
Schwarz denied he was in the bathroom. But after Volpe pleaded guilty, a jury convicted Schwarz in 1999 of violating Louima's civil rights.
The attack heightened tensions between the Police Department and the black community and led to street protests.
Last week, however, a federal appeals court ordered a new trial for Schwarz. It ruled that his lawyer had a conflict of interest and that the jury was tainted because it had found out about Volpe's secret plea.
Louima, who suffered severe internal injuries, criticized the appeals court decision Thursday at a Miami news conference held before the bail hearing.
"I had hoped, after all these years, I would be able to go on with my life," Louima said. "Unfortunately, that is not the case."
Louima — who received an $8.7 million settlement from the city and police union — pledged to "fully cooperate" with prosecutors.
"I thank my family, my friends and, of course, God for giving me the strength to fight for justice as long as it may take," Louima said.
The appeals court last week also threw out the obstruction-of-justice convictions of Schwarz and two other officers, Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese, who were accused of covering up the crime. Bruder and Wiese cannot be retried on the charges.
Volpe, who is serving a 30-year sentence, has said Schwarz was not in the bathroom.