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Raymond Ortega, a gay bartender, and Toni Llerena, a transgender woman, were eating at a busy Burger King when they say an employee ordered them to leave and called them “f—ing faggots.”
When they protested, a security guard repeated the slur, sprayed Ortega with mace and beat him, busting his jaw and seriously injuring his knee, they say.
But this was no regular Burger King — it’s a 24-hour restaurant directly next to Twist, the iconic South Beach gay nightclub. On any given night, the restaurants on the block are teeming with Twist patrons.
“You would feel like it’s a safe place,” Ortega told the Miami Herald. “You would think it would be a safe haven for you, but it wasn’t that.”
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The two men have now filed a lawsuit against Burger King over the October incident, which left Ortega walking with a limp and with more than $10,000 in dental bills. Their lawyers, Matthew Ladd and Robert Pelier, say once Burger King reveals the names of the employee and the security guard, they plan to report the attack to Miami-Dade prosecutors.
“These two are going to get justice,” Ladd said of his clients. “We are going to hold everyone accountable.”
Burger King did not respond to a request for comment from the Miami Herald. Ladd said the Miami-based restaurant chain has surveillance video of the attack.
No criminal investigation has been initiated yet. But authorities do file charges under Florida’s hate-crime law, which stiffens penalties for those convicted of committing a crime “with prejudice.” Last month, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office charged a man with aggravated assault under the law, saying he pulled a gun on several black teenagers while using racial slurs.
In the Miami Beach case, the episode happened on Oct. 13, when Ortega and Llerena had just finished a brief visit to Twist, the Washington Avenue gay club. They walked into the next-door Burger King, 1101 Washington Ave., about 3:30 a..m
Ortega, 32, ordered a chicken tender sandwich, Llerena a burger.
That morning it was packed. While eating, a Burger King employee walked up and in an “abrupt, terse and rude manner” told them they had to leave because the restaurant was closing the section where they eating, according to the lawsuit.
The couple protested, saying no one else was being asked to leave. They asked for a few minutes to finish their food.
The employee, described as an African-American woman, agreed they were right but “shouted at them and called them ‘faggots,’” according to the lawsuit filed last month in Miami-Dade circuit court. Other people in the restaurant began to gawk.
A security guard, described as a white or Hispanic man, walked up and also called them ‘faggots’ and told them they had to leave, the couple said. “What if someone did this to your son?” Ortega began to say.
That’s when, according to Ortega and the lawsuit, the guard sprayed the men with mace, then pummeled Ortega in the face with his fists. Other Burger King customers began taking phone video.
Ortega suffered a “broken jaw, pain, suffering, humiliation, shame and public embarrassment,” the lawsuit said. Somebody called police, but the men left the area, afraid of being arrested for trespassing.
“I was dragged out of there for no reason,” Ortega said.