A Fort Lauderdale 911 operator took the call. "They are beating my son!" a woman screamed. "They are going to kill my son!"
"Ma'am, slow down. Who is beating your son?" the operator responded.
"The poliiiice!" The words were an agonized wail. "I tried to talk to them, and the police just punched my face! Send someone to protect me!"
The caller was howling into the receiver in broken English. "Please, send someone who is not North Lauderdale police! Nicolas punched me in my face. Please send somebody; they are killing my son!"
The caller was Gina Brin, a slender 49-year-old mother of two. Nicolas Novello was a Broward Sheriff's Office detective whom Brin had encountered several times before. Brin lived with her husband, Randy, and her sons from a previous marriage, Daniel and Jose Cortes, on SW 71st Terrace. That night, Gina had cooked dinner, slipped on a T-shirt and pajama shorts, and gotten in bed when Daniel's girlfriend, Tabitha Maddeaux, burst into her bedroom.
"Gina," Maddeaux cried, "the cops are hitting Daniel!"
Daniel Cortes had been arrested for possession with intent to distribute ten grams of marijuana on December 6, 2008. Four nights later, driving an unmarked van and in plain clothes, detectives Nicolas Novello and Michael Tucciarone were back to arrest him again. Cortes had allegedly told a hospital nurse during his possession arrest that he'd swallowed ecstasy pills. Novello and Tucciarone thought they had probable cause to arrest him for tampering with evidence.
Daniel and Maddeaux were standing in their yard, calling back and forth across the street with their neighbor, 21-year-old Lee Shatil-White, when a gold van pulled up. "I thought it was someone we knew, 'cause they didn't have lights on or anything," Shatil-White later told Internal Affairs investigators. "They got out of the car, and they're like, 'Daniel Cortes, come here.' "
Daniel walked up to the van, Shatil-White says, and "without any provocation or anything, they just hit him in the head with a flashlight."
She saw Daniel fall to the ground. Maddeaux started crying and ran inside the house to get Gina, Shatil-White recalls.
In interviews with New Times, Shatil-White, Cortes, Maddeaux, and Gina and Randy Brin described a scene that quickly got uglier. Gina jumped out of bed and came outside. Randy stood at the open front door. Gina and Randy say Novello was sitting on Daniel, who was prone on the sidewalk. As Gina screamed at the cops, Novello, they say, stood up, stepped over Daniel's body, and walked up and punched her in the face. Gina fell to the ground. Shatil-White, who was across the street, says it looked like Novello "punched or elbowed" Gina. She recalls hearing Gina screaming, "You hit me! You hit me!"
Randy Brin sounds stunned when he recounts what happened. The 53-year-old Brin, who runs an auto body business, struggled to find words to describe seeing his wife fall. Detective Novello, he recalls, is "six-two, six-three."
"I was looking at Gina on the ground, and she was, I just, you know, I mean, it was just an incredible... thing to see... I just couldn't believe it," he said in a later statement.
Gina Brin told New Times that the second detective, Tucciarone, pointed his gun at her head. Randy and Shatil-White saw the red dot of the laser settle first on her forehead and then travel down to her breastbone. Gina and Randy say they watched while the detectives repeatedly pounded Daniel's head into the pavement.
Seeing detectives punching and kicking Daniel, Shatil-White recalled, "I've never seen that before in my life. It was like a movie. It was crazy."
The frantic 911 call Gina made that night records her begging the operator not to send North Lauderdale police.
"I asked them not to, because they hate us," Brin told investigators.
A few minutes after she hung up, district Sgt. Paul Mikols arrived, and against the advice of her husband, Gina went out to talk to him. Mikols had her arrested. Although Gina and witnesses concur that she never came within six feet of the deputies and Daniel, she was booked on charges of obstructing an arrest.
"I was ashamed. I had on a little [pair of] shorts, I didn't have a wrap, I didn't have shoes," Gina recalled. "I'd never been arrested in my life." On the way to the station, Gina asked the female cop who was driving her, "Why am I here? Is it a sin or a crime to ask these deputies to stop beating my son the way they were doing it?"
"Mrs. Brin," Gina recalls the cop telling her, "don't worry — it's just a misdemeanor."
At the station, Brin says, she watched her son brought in limping. He had an ugly knot on his head. One eye was blackened. He told her later he'd been beaten and dragged from the car by another detective, Robert Sokol. Daniel was charged with multiple felonies, including three counts of battery on a law enforcement officer. None of the detectives was injured.