Former officers charged in suspect beating

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-They were sworn to uphold the law, but now are charged with breaking it. Thursday former West Palm Beach police officers Louis Schwartz and Kurt Graham faced a judge, charged with official misconduct, battery and falsifying reports.

The charges stem from a hold-up at a CVS pharmacy last year. Outside the store, dash cam video shows robbery suspect Pablo Valenzuela, handcuffed on the ground, being kicked and hit in the head by officers Schwartz and Graham. The city fired Schwartz. Graham resigned.

Prosecutor Alan Johnson said, "They are serious charges anytime the breach of public trust is a factor, especially when there's violence."

"The allegations are somewhat surprising," commented Graham's lawyer Michael Salnick. "There's a lot more to the case than what anyone has seen. That will have to be dealt with in court."

A report from a State Attorney's investigator does say fleeing suspect "Valenzuela did attempt to use pepper spray" on one of the officers. But the report also says when a superior questioned officers on their use of force, "Graham advised he was attempting to move the knife" away from the suspect. However the report says when officers struck Valenzuela, "the knife remained in the (suspect's) back pack."

Prosecutors also allege Schwartz fabricated another justification for the use of force. Schwartz wrote, "the suspect tried to bite Officer Graham's leg." But prosecutors say the officers never mentioned that when first questioned.

"That's why we have courts and juries to decide these issues," said Schwartz's attorney Scott Richardson. "I'm sure all of the facts will come out, not just what has been portrayed in the media so far."

The judge allowed Schwartz and Graham out of jail on their own recognizance, without posting a bond.

The city fired a third officer, Jason Zangara, for repeatedly punching Valenzuela in the head.  At this point, Zangara is not facing charges.