Tired and hungry, Edgardo Ortiz had just returned home from his night shift at work early last Saturday morning when he heard the banging of nightsticks against the front of his Feltonville rowhouse.
Ortiz, 26, went onto the enclosed front porch and spoke through the jalousie door with three policemen, who said they had come to investigation a "disturbance."
Ortiz, perplexed by the policemen's presence, said there was no disturbance at all. An argument between Ortiz and the officer ensued.
Moments later – according to five witnesses interviewed by The Inquirer – the three officers smashed through the door, slammed Ortiz through a large glass window at the end of the porch and beat him with nightsticks while his wife and small daughter watched.
His overalls were torn in the course of the beating and fell to the floor. As Ortiz, handcuffed by then, bent over to try to pull them up, a policeman clubbed him with a black, cutting open his head and splattering blood across the porch, which was littered with toys and dolls.
The policemen then threw Ortiz into a police van with his trousers still around his ankles. One policeman reportedly called Ortiz who is 5-foot-11 and weighs 280 pounds, a "big spic bastard."
The Inquirer has reconstructed the case by means of interviews with Ortiz, four persons who witnessed the entire incident, three neighbors who saw part of the beating and a physician who treated Ortiz for his injuries. The Inquirer also examined court documents pertaining to the case, photographs of Ortiz taken the day of the incident and his torn, blood-stained clothing.
All the witnesses agreed that Ortiz neither struck any of the policemen nor made any motions other than to protect his head from the blows and to attempt to pull up his trousers. They said he never left the enclosed porch of his house until he was dragged to the police van.
Ortiz said the police never showed a warrant to allow them to enter the house. According to Police Department records, Ortiz had no previous criminal record.
Ortiz was charged with assaulting three officers and resisting arrest. Yesterday, in an account of the incident that contradicted the accounts given by all witnesses interviewed by The Inquirer, the Police Department said that Ortiz had punched one of the policemen in the jaw and injured the other two.
In the course of the beating, Ortiz sustained injuries of the head, neck, arms, elbows, back and legs, according to Dr. Jugo M. Trsic, who treated him. Dr. Trsic said that Ortiz had also sustained a slight concussion and recommended that he not work for 10 days. Shortly after the beating, police took Ortiz to Episcopal Hospital, where one of the cuts on his head was closed with three stitches.
Ortiz' wife, Anna Marie, reported the incident to the FBI, which already was conducting an investigation into other allegations of beatings by Philadelphia police. U.S. Attorney David W. Marston said his office would begin to investigate the case immediately.
The three policemen identified in court records as the officers who arrested Ortiz – Robert Pawloski, Thomas Giraldi and Robert Leahy – could not be reached for comment. The Inquirer left telephone messages for them at their homes or at the 25th Police District, where they are assigned.
As The Inquirer has reconstructed the incident, this is what happened last Saturday:
Ortiz had just completed his evening shift as a machinist at the David Weber Co., a manufacturer of paper boxes in the city's Richmond section. He is a member of Local 375 of the Paper Manufacturers' Union and has worked at the company for four years. His father is a longtime employe there.
About 1 a.m., as he was looking for a parking place near his home on the narrow 4400 block of Orianna Street, he met a neighbor, John Simpson, 25. The two chatted casually, and then Ortiz parked.
Ortiz is a stocky and powerful man (his nickname is "Ox") whom Simpson and other neighbors describe as "happy" and "peaceful." He came to the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of 2 and lives with his wife and three children in the integrated Fentonville neighborhood which , residents say, has been calm since the widely reported Santiago firebombing occurred there in October 1975.
The Ortiz home looks directly onto the backyard of the home formerly owned by Radames Santiago, whose wife and three children were killed along with another child in the racially motivated firebombing.
Ortiz arrived home about 1:15 a.m. His wife was lying on the couch in their neatly furnished living room, watching television. A few minutes later, she went upstairs to take a bath.
Ortiz walked into the kitchen. When he could not find any food, he shouted upstairs to his wife, "What am I gonna eat?"
She apparently could not hear him because the bath water was running and the television was still on.
"What do we have for dinner?" he yelled again. "Do we have any food?"
The Ortizes believe that sometimes during this exchange a neighbor made the call that brought the police to the house.
Several of Ortiz' neighbors who were awake at 1:20 a.m. – the time the disturbance was reported to police – said they did not recall hearing any loud noises on the block at that time. Neftali Rodriguez, 34, who lives next door to Ortiz, said he had heard loud voices coming from the Ortiz home, but he said he did not think there was a serious problem until he heard the police beating against the Ortiz house.
Ortiz then went upstairs and sat on the bathroom floor, talking to Anna Marie as she took her bath, they both recalled. Suddenly, they heard a banging at their front door.
"Yo, I'm coming!" Ortiz shouted from the bathroom, he said. He hurried down the steps to the small front porch. Through the jalousie door, he saw the policemen.
"What are you pounding on my door for?" He recalled asking through the closed door.
"We got a disturbance call," a policeman answered.
"Who called?" Ortiz said. "There's no disturbance. We're OK."
"Open the door," a policeman ordered, Ortiz recalled.
By this time, Mrs. Ortiz had come down the steps in a robe, as had their daughter, Love, who will be four next month. The noise of the nightsticks banging the house had also brought two neighbors from across the street – John and Ludmila (they asked that their last names not be published) – to the front of the Ortiz home.
Ortiz refused to open the door.
"You don't have a warrant," he said. "I know my rights."
"You don't have no rights," a policeman responded, according to Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz.
Ortiz and the police continued to quar rel, and eventually the police walked down the cement steps, apparently to leave. But one of the policemen, according to the witnesses, turned around, looked up at Ortiz and said, "You big f---ing spic."
Ortiz then opened the door slightly and said in a voice loud enough to be hear d by neighbors across the street: "What did you say?"
At that point, the witnesses said, two of the policemen rushed back up the steps. Ortiz closed the door and leaned against it.
The policemen smashed away the glass panel on the door, witnesses said, and pushed out the screen. They banged Ortiz' hands with the clubs until he was driven back from the door. The police then rammed the door open, the witnesses said.
Ortiz was standing a few feet behind the door on the tiny porch. According to the witnesses, the police charged Ortiz and drove him through two large windows and a wooden panel that separate his porch from the port of the neighboring rowhouse.
Ortiz, witneses said, was bent backwards, suspended on a ledge that separated the two porches. The two policemen immediately began swinging their nightsticks at full-strength across Ortiz' body, the witnesses said.
Ludmila recalled hearing Mrs. Ortiz cry, "Please don't hit him! Please don't hit him!"
Mrs. Ortiz remembers it too. "But they ignored me," she said. "I was standing so close that every time he (the policeman) pulled back his stick to swing, I jumped back because I thought I'd be hit."
In clubbing Ortiz, the police broke the straps of his coveralls, ripping his clothes and causing his trousers to drop to the floor.
After about three minutes of sustained clubbing, according to the witnesses, the police pulled Ortiz out from the broken frame. By then, three policemen was standing on the porch, a fourth was on the steps and two more were arriving in another police van.
"OK, bro, you got me," Ortiz said to a policeman, his wife and two neighbors recalled. "Now let me pick up my pants, please."
The police reportedly began laughing at Ortiz, who was wearing only a T-shirt and undershorts. His wife and the neighbors recalled that Ortiz repeatedly asked the officers to allow him to pull up his trousers.
"He's a very proud man," Mrs. Ortiz said.
The police handcuffed Ortiz and then told him to walk down the steps, the witnesses said.
Ortiz asked again if he could pull up his trousers. At that point, according to the witnesses, one of the arresting officers – a short, blond-haired man with a mustache – said, "Go ahead, motherf---er, pull your pants up."
As Ortiz bent forward, witnesses said, the policeman pulled out a blackjack and brought it down on Ortiz' head.
The blow cut open a large gash from which blood spurted onto the curtains and the floor, witnesses said. Ortiz clung to a wooden column next to his front door in an effort to keep his balance. The three policemen then began to beat Ortiz again with their nightsticks, according to the witnesses.
The witnesses said the officers splintered two nightsticks while beating Ortiz.
When that occurred, John 27, a slender service-station attendant, ran into his house across the street and called the 25th District police station.
John said he spoke with a sergeant and implored him to come and inspect the scene of the beating. "It's really getting bad out here," John recalled telling the policeman. "You've got to get out here."
By that time, several other neighbors were on the sidewalk to see what was happening. John and Lillian Simpson, who live down the street, and Rodrigues, the next-door neighbor, said they saw the end of the beating. (Two other neighbors who witnesses said observed part of the beating refused to be interviewed.)
"He had blood all over his head and arms and everything," Ludmila said. "I thought he was going to die."
Witnesses said that police forced Ortiz to lose his grip on the wooden column beside the door and shoved him – trousers still around his an-
"The way he went flying down the steps," John recalled, "I thought his head would split open. I couldn't believe it."
John Simpson recalled seeing police "dragging Ox (Ortiz) by the ankles – down the five cement steps onto the sidewalk. He landed on his back and head, witnesses said, steps on his back. There was blood on his shoulders," Simpson said," and his shirt was torn open."
Lillian Simpson was standing beside her husband. "I saw Ox come flying down on his back," she said, "still pleading to pull his pants up."
Rodrigues said he, too, witnessed the incident and saw Ortiz "hit his head on the bottom step."
Despite his battered condition, witnesses said Ortiz continued to ask that he be allowed to pull up his trousers.
"Please let me pull up my pants," witnesses quoted him as saying as he lay on the sidewalk.
Witnesses said Police again began hitting Ortiz with nightsticks. Finally, the hurled him into a waiting police van and shut the doors.
With the van still on the street, police began what neighbors described as a cleanup outside the Ortiz house. John and Ludmila said they saw two policemen attempt to replace some unbroken Jalousie window slats that had been dislodged during the break-in. Other officers, they said, picked up fragments of the nightsticks that had splintered in the course of the beating.
(One officer said that as he searched the porch, he discovered a tiny bag of marijuana. Ortiz was charged with possession of marijuana, but the charge was dropped this week.)
Mrs. Ortiz recalled that she reached down on the sidewalk to attempt to pick up pieces of broken nightsticks, but was stopped by a policeman. She said the officer "kicked the pieces" away from her and yelled, "Get the f--- into your house."
John according to his own and other witnesses' accounts, yelled to Mrs. Ortiz from across the street: "Don't let them touch nothing. I called the (police) supervisor and they're sending a sergeant down here."
Then, John and Ludmila said, the short blonde policeman abruptly dropped one of the glass frames on the concrete steps, and charged across the street in pursuit of John, who ran up the steps and into his house.
(It was the blond officer, witnesses said, who appeared to be leading the policemen. "It seemed like he was just gung-ho to go after anyone who opened his mouth," Mrs. Simpson said.)
"All right, you wise punk," Ludmila quoted the officer as saying, "You think what we did to him (Ortiz) was bad, wait till you see what we do to you . . . If he (John) so much as peeks through those blinds, we'll bust your door down and drag him out here."
Inside his house, John said, he was terrified and considered running out the back door. He said he was so sure --
-- moved his glasses. Once again, he called the 25th District, he said.
"Now I'm talking to you nice and calm," John recalled saying to an officer, "but if you don't get down here right away, they're going to wipe out this whole neighborhood."
John said he was assured that a senior officer would be dispatched.
Witnesses said a police sergeant did arrive on the scene in squad car 25-A a short time later. The sergeant, the witnesses said, did not identify himself and refused to inspect the Ortiz home. Instead, they said, the officer wrote down their names and assured them that there would be no more violence on the block.
Inside the locked van, Ortiz was groping on the floor for his loose change, which had spilled from the pockets of his tattered overalls. He said he thought he would need dimes to make telephone calls.
When he arrived in the van at the 25th District station, Ortiz recalled he was pulled out of the wagon and shoved up a ramp into the station house. All this time, he said, a policeman behind him was stepping on his torn trousers and taunting him into trying to escape. "Do it now, you wise Puerto Rican bum," Ortiz recalled one policeman saying.
Inside the station, Ortiz stumbled and fell to the floor. He said he then was approached by the short blond policeman who had arrested him.
"Now, you fat sone of a bitch," Ortiz quoted the officer as saying. "What are you going to do? Now I'm going to break your legs." Ortiz said the officer then kicked him in the back as he lay on the floor.
"Shoot him," Ortiz recalled another voice saying in the background.
Ortiz said he was then ordered to walk up a flight of stairs into a square room containing seven or eight desks. There, he said, approximately eight uniformed policemen and five men in shirts and ties (Ortiz believed they were detectives) jeered at him as he stood handcuffed, clad only in his blood-stained underwear.
The arresting officers, he said, "kept bragging about beating me up. They kept trying to torment me into fighting . . . They kept laughing at me."
Finally, Ortiz said, he was taken to another room where he was interviewed by an officer in plain clothes. The policeman, Ortiz said, asked him if he planned to press charges against the officers.
"I told him I just wanted to go to a hospital," Ortiz recalled.
After the conversation, Ortiz was taken by police to Episcopal Hospital. He was treated, returned briefly to the 25th District, and then taken to police headquarters, a building at Eighth and Race Streets known as the Roundhouse. He was arraigned at 4:30 a.m. in his tattered overalls and released.
Commissioner Joseph F. O'Neill asked to comment on the case, refer red all questions to chief inspector Frank Scafidi, head of the Police Department's internal affairs bureau. Scafidi said yesterday that the case was under investigation by detectives. He said a staff inspector from the internal affairs unit would be assigned to investigate the case, if a complaint was received from the Ortiz family.
Scafidi gave this account of the incident: Officers Giraldi and Pawloski were responding to a report of a disturbance at 4416 N. Orianna St. and they were met at the door of the house by Ortiz. When the police asked Ortiz who had placed the call, he began to shout obscenities at them. As they were walking down the Steps to leave, the officers said, Ortiz punched Giraldi in the left side of his jaw and knocked him to the ground.
A fight ensued, Scafidi said, and Ortiz threw the policemen through a glass window of an adjoining house before he was handcuffed.
The three officers, Scafidi said, were treated for their injuries at Hahnemann Hospital and placed on "injured duty" for several days after the incident.
All the witnesses interviewed by The Inquirer said that Ortiz did not strike any of the policemen, but only tried to cover his head from the blows.
"The only way the police could have been injured," Ortiz' neighbor Ludmila said, "was when they were busting through the square windows and sticking their hands through the broken glass and screen. But from Ox, no way! I'll swear to that. I'm sure. It would have been impossible."
When Ortiz finally arrived home, Mrs. Ortiz recalled, his first question was, "Did any of the neighbors see me in my underwear?"
Later, the family spent some time trying to reconcile the experience with their previous beliefs about the police.
Ortiz, who plays what he describes as "rough touch" football with several policemen on a team sponsored by Bradley's Bar at Second and Master Streets, said he had a number of friends who were policemen. "I like 'em," he said. "I play football with them, and softball too."
Mrs. Ortiz agreed. "We've always taught our children to respect the law and to respect policemen," she said. "My daughter always says 'policeman' and not 'cop.'"
She said that after the van drove off with Ortiz, their daughter, Love, turned to her mother and asked, "Mommy, why did the policemen hit daddy?"
Mrs. Ortiz said she was crying and could not answer.
"You can't explain these things to a child," she said.