Luis Berrios is suing the city and a number of Philadelphia police officers in regard to a 2010 incident in which he and his then-partner were arrested for a domestic-violence incident. Charges against both men were later dropped.
Berrios field suit in 2012 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania, alleging civil-rights violations occurred during the arrest. Named as defendants were the city, Officers Robert Tavarez and Michael Gentile, Detective Robert Newbert and 13 unnamed officers.
At a Jan. 13 settlement conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski, the city solicitor’s office offered Berrios $2,000 and then $3,000, which he rejected.
Berrios is pursuing a jury trial, which has yet to be scheduled.
The suit charges excessive use of force, false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, bystander liability, conspiracy, assault and battery and other state and federal civil-rights violations.
A city attorney declined to comment.
Berrios’ attorney, Rania Major-Trunfio, said the case highlights the need for standard LGBT sensitivity training throughout the criminal-justice system.
“Not only does the city solicitor’s office seriously undervalue what Mr. Berrios went through as a result of the police officers’ wrongful actions, but it also undervalues the fact that, in a broader sense, this case epitomizes the reasons we need to have sensitivity training for anybody in the court system, including police officers, who come into contact with members of the LGBT community,” she said.
Berrios and his former boyfriend, who was intoxicated at the time, got into an altercation at Berrios’ home in the 4500 block of North Seventh Street in the early morning of Dec. 28, 2010.
The complaint alleges that several officers called Berrios and his partner “faggots” and “niggers” and, after the partner allegedly cursed at the officers, began beating him with their batons. When Berrios attempted to intervene outside the house, Gentile told him to “get against the wall, you faggot,” according to the complaint.
Handcuffs were placed on Berrios and tightened as much as they could be, the suit states, before Gentile threw Berrios onto the hood of his patrol car and allegedly began to twist and further tighten the handcuffs with his baton, while continuously using antigay slurs. The suit says Gentile threatened to break Berrios’ wrists if he didn’t “shut the fuck up.”
The suit contends that Gentile, Tavares and an unnamed officer had a conversation in front of Berrios about who to “pin” the incident on in light of “paparazzi,” as neighbors were recording and photographing the arrests.
Following his release, Berrios sought medical treatment for bilateral wrist sprain and strain, sprain and strain of his right elbow, cervical radiculitis, brachial neuritis and other injuries, as well as for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Berrios told PGN he sought mental-health treatment following a November deposition.
“Seeing the officers brought back a lot of what happened,” he said. “I’ve been paranoid, scared that something’s going to happen again. My job gave me time off due to the paranoia and PTSD. But I’ve been through a lot, discriminated against to a point I’ve never been before.”
Berrios said he owes more than $10,000 in medical bills stemming from the incident.
He said the city’s offers were inadequate, but added he is not pursuing the case for financial reasons.
“I need to stand up for my community. It’s not about the money. I don’t really care what they offer, it’s more about justice, about trying to figure out how to make the police more culturally competent with how they treat the LGBT community. Me taking a settlement would be just a way for them to make me and this issue go away, and I would be giving up on myself and my community.”