The Philadelphia cold can be merciless and this week Luis Berrios will be reminded of his worst winter ever.
He knows the unforgiving December chill all too well, but it isn’t the below freezing temperature in the early hours of the morning five years ago that still sends shivers down his spine.
What still disturbs him is the memory of being taken out of his home and beaten in the snow by more than a dozen police officers.
Berrios and his then partner Jason Mendez were abused with batons while they pleaded for compassion from their assailants.
However, it seems the cops wanted to break the men not just physically, but also emotionally.
Perhaps, this is why they kept addressing the pair as “faggots”. Mendez, an African-American man, was also called a “nigger” multiple times.
Berrios filed a complaint the Internal Affairs Bureau just days after the incident.
This week, marks the beginning of his trial in the case of Berrios versus City of Philadelphia.
Now, he has summoned every ounce of courage to face one of his abusers, who responded to a plea for mercy with, “Let me hear you squeal, faggot”.
Berrios is as determined as he can be.
“I may not be able to break this system, but I’m going to put a dent in it.”
“Shut up you pussy faggot”
Early morning on December 28, 2010 Berrios and Mendez got into an argument. The two were together at the former’s home in Hunting Park. A neighbor, who heard raised voices, called the police.
At first four cops arrived and the resident told them simply to take his partner home.
Berrios says Mendez had consumed almost a whole bottle of Cherry vodka and needed time to sober up on his own.
He was assured that the drunken man would be dropped home safely. However, just as he went into his kitchen he heard his partner yelling.
Mendez was in handcuffs and officers had their baton drawn. A startled Berrios asked the members of law enforcement what was going on.
“They told me to just calm down or that I’d be next,” he says.
Berrios left the scene and walked onto his back porch, when he returned he saw Mendez being taken out the front door.
He says he heard one of the officers saying saying: “once he hits the snow, he’ll calm down”.
At some point during this episode the cops managed to call for backup. Then, he says, he saw officers shove his ex-partner face first into a mound of snow.
But, it just wasn’t the physical abuse that Berrios witnessed; the men in uniform kept calling him “nigger” and “faggot”.
Soon after, around 10 to 12 police officers arrived.
Mendez’ ordeal was far from over – Berrios could hear him shouting and saying he couldn’t breathe, but his pleas fell on deaf ears and the cops kept stamping his ankles and striking his legs with their batons, calling him a faggot all the while.
This is when Berrios decided enough was enough and approached the officers to stop the nonsense.
One of the officers asked him to put his hand against the wall if he wanted to help.
However, in retrospect perhaps it was best that Berrios did not comply because Officer Robert Tavarez handcuffed him and pushed him against the police car. Next, he says, it is unclear what the officer did with his baton, but it felt as though “he put it between the cuffs and just started twisting it back the opposite way”.
When his victim asked him to stop, he said: “Shut up you pussy faggot”. Eventually, the pain got so unbearable that Berrios started banging his head against the windshield to knock himself out.
Following this, the officers threw both the men in to the back of a police wagon – only the second attempt to do so was successful because the first time the cops tried the men landed face first in the snow.
From here they were taken to the 25th District. Mendez had to be moved to be Episocal Hospital.
Berrios says his ex-partner was bruised all over the body. There were approximately 15 nail marks around his throat, his mouth was cut open and there were bald patches on his head from where tufts his hair had been ripped out.
Berrios remained in custody for one night until he was bailed out the next morning by a neighbor.
During the trial he revealed that he had considerable difficulty going about day-to-day tasks because he would have no sensation in his right hand.
Now, five years later Berrios is determined to see justice being served.