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Friday, January 21, 2011

Gay Couple alleges Police Brutality in Philadelphia

I read this article today on the Philadelphia Gay News website and thought I would share it.

"A local gay man is alleging that several Philadelphia police officers used excessive force against him and his partner, as well as homophobic and racist language.

Following a run-in late last month with police, Luis Berrios filed a complaint with the Internal Affairs Bureau Dec. 30, and again on Jan. 13 when department officials said they hadn’t received it, as well as with the Police Advisory Commission Jan. 14.

The PAC serves as the civil oversight committee for the police department.

PAC deputy director Kelvyn Anderson confirmed that the agency received Berrios’ complaint, but formal action has not yet been taken.

Berrios, who lives on the 4500 block of North Seventh Street in Hunting Park, said a neighbor called police in the early morning of Dec. 28 after he and partner Jason Mendez got into an altercation.

When police arrived, Berrios said he asked the officers to take his partner home and that he didn’t want to press charges.

“We’ve been together for two years and I’d never seen him like that. I told the police he needed time to sober up, and one of the officers assured me that they’d take him home and it’d be OK,” Berrios said.

Four officers initially arrived, and Berrios said he first told them that Mendez was his brother so as to avoid any potential awkwardness, but Mendez told police the truth.

Berrios said he walked into the kitchen when he heard Mendez yelling, “Babe, they’re beating me up,” and returned to see his partner in handcuffs and the officers with their batons drawn.

“I asked what they were doing and the one said that [Mendez] cursed at his partner and he told me to back up,” Berrios said. “They told me to just calm down or that I’d be next.”

Berrios said he went to his back porch and made a phone call and that, on his way back in, he saw the officers taking Mendez out front and heard one of them say, “Once he hits the snow, he’ll calm down.”

He said the officers threw Mendez face-first into a pile of snow, repeatedly calling him “nigger” and “faggot.” He said one of the officers must have called for back-up, as 10-12 officers eventually arrived on the scene.

When Berrios approached and asked the officers to let Mendez up, he said they became confrontational with him.

“I never cursed at them, I never spoke out of line, I didn’t show aggression at all,” he said. “One of them came up and said, ‘Put your hands down’ — I was speaking with my hands because I was excited and emotional — and I asked them to just let me calm down. Jason was in the snow and he was saying he couldn’t breathe and they were just stomping on his ankles and hitting his legs with the batons, calling him faggot. And one of the officers said, ‘If you want to help him, put your hands against the wall, faggot.’”

Berrios said when he complied, the arresting officer, listed in court records as Officer Robert Tavarez, handcuffed him. He said the officer attempted to push him in the snow also, but he resisted, and Tavarez instead pushed him against the police car.

“I don’t know what he did with the baton but it felt like he put it between the cuffs and just started twisting it back the opposite way,” Berrios said. “I kept telling him how much it was hurting and he just said, ‘Shut up, pussy faggot.’ I closed my eyes and all I could hear was Jason screaming. And I told him I have a dislocated wrist, and he said, ‘Shut the fuck up, or you’ll have a broken wrist.’ He said, ‘Let me hear you squeal, faggot.’

“And I just started screaming in pain and telling them to just take me, to just put me in jail if they wanted to, so he’d stop. I begged the other officers to make him stop and my neighbor was standing there crying because she knew she couldn’t do anything. I was crying and finally just started banging my head against the windshield to try to knock myself out because I was in so much pain.”

During this time, Berrios said he could see that at least two officers had placed Mendez in the back of one of the cars and were hitting him with their batons. He said his neighbor later told him they took Mendez out of the car and put him back on the ground and attempted to pick him up by the back of his shirt and pants and throw him into the back of a police wagon but missed on the first try, causing him to fall face-first onto the ground.

Berrios said neither he nor his partner was read their Miranda rights.

Once he was in the car, Berrios said another officer came to the car and said there had been “paparazzi” — neighbors taking video and photos of the incident.

“He was asking who was going to take the fall for this,” Berrios said. “He asked who they could blame it on because they had paparazzi out there. And he said he was just going to write that [Mendez] struck him, and I was trying to ask how they can say that happened when he was in handcuffs and shackles. But they said they’d follow the one officer’s report in the other car and then give it to them to look it over and write their report based on that.”

When the pair arrived at the 25th District, Berrios said Mendez was transported to Episcopal Hospital by police.

He said Mendez was bruised “from head to toe,” had deep scratches all over his body, about 15 nail marks around this throat and a cut-open mouth, as well as large patches of hair that had been ripped out. Berrios later sought medical attention for frequent swelling and numbness in his hands.

Berrios was ultimately charged with simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and possession of an instrument of crime with intent — during the altercation with his partner, Berrios said he struck him with a clothes iron because Mendez was pinning him down and did not realize he was having an asthma attack.

Mendez faces charges of simple assault, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.

Berrios said both he and Mendez told officers they did not want to press charges against one another, but police spokesperson Lt. Ray Evers said that, in domestic-violence cases, state law permits charges to be brought if injuries are sustained, with or without the consent of the injured parties.

A neighbor bailed Berrios out the next day, while Mendez remains in custody at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Mendez was arrested last year for drug charges and was on two years’ probation, and a judge placed a detainer following his arrest.

Berrios is also on two years’ probation for a retail-theft charge in Delaware County.

PAC deputy director Anderson could not give a timeline on when action may be taken on the case, but said it will first be evaluated by the organization’s executive director, as well as during a hearing by its Investigative Review Committee.

Evers said that, when complaints are filed with the PAC and Internal Affairs, a notification is placed on the files of the officers involved until a determination of potential wrongdoing is made.

Berrios faces a hearing in his case on Jan. 27, and Mendez the following day."

Article written by Jen Colletta, she can be reached at

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