For three years, Mario Flores, a 40-year-old metal worker with a mild mental disability, arrived home from work only to have his neighbor greet him with slaps, taunts, name-calling, and once, even a machete.
But Flores, a soft-spoken man who said he was picked on for being easygoing, came up with a plan to fight back against Fred Brandstadter, a 41-year-old construction worker whom he said he had always been friendly to.
"He kept bothering me, Fred Brandstadter, so I asked an officer to talk to him so we could get along," Flores told Good Morning America. The abuse put him in fear of his life, he said.
Flores used a hidden video camera to tape some of the nightly assaults that happened in the hallway of his home in a residential hotel in San Mateo, Calif. Brandstadter, who had pleaded no contest to hate-crime assault against Flores, was sentenced to two years in state prison on Friday.
The tapes depicted a slew of incidents. In one, Brandstadter uses an anti-gay epithet while pushing Flores against the wall. In others he is shown hitting Flores in the head and knocking him into the wall; hitting him through an open door; and shoving him while holding a pizza box in the other hand.
The following is a transcript of some of the taped incidents:
Fred Brandstadter: (in a mocking voice) I'm so scared. I'm so scared.
Mario Flores: Why are you always picking on me?
Brandstadter: 'Cause I can.
Flores: I know you can get away with it. I know you can get away with it.
Brandstadter: I can get away with it. I can do anything I want. You know why? 'Cause you're a faggot.
Flores: You know I'm not a fag. I'm just a delicate white boy.
Brandstadter: Yes you are. You're a fag. Look at you. Look at this s--- you wear.
Flores: That hurts right there.
Brandstadter: I don't give a f---. I don't care. I don't care. I don't care Mario.
Brandstadter: I don't care. There's nothing you can do about it.
Flores: How about just because you want to be nice to me?
Brandstadter: No, f--- you. F--- you, Mario. Here. Why don't I … (Brandstadter pulled a machete on Flores.)
Brandstadter: cut you with this.
Flores: Don't. That would kill me easily. Don't do that please, please. I couldn't do that to anybody. Don't. OK. OK. Wait, wait, wait, you're scaring me now
Started with Slamming Doors
Flores said he is not gay, but prosecutors filed the hate crime charges because they only needed to prove that an assault was committed because of a perceived sexual orientation to label it a hate crime.
"Some people use words like "fag" indiscriminately, like the playground bully, but there's such animosity," said San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Morris Maya. It is clear from the tapes that Brandstadter is mocking Flores' disability as well, he said.
The abuse began several years ago, when Brandstadter would slam Flores' door whenever he left it open, Flores said.
But things really heated up last year, when Brandstadter tried to get Flores to take a drug test for him. To avoid it, Flores pretended he didn't know what his neighbor wanted him to do. Flores said he did not smoke, drink or do drugs.
Police Wanted Evidence
Flores complained to the owner of the building and called police about Brandstadter's physical abuse last year, but officers said they couldn't do anything without evidence.
When a officer finally questioned Brandstadter, the angry neighbor denied Flores' claims.
Police suggested to Flores that he should move, but he said he would rather stay and stick up for himself
On March 7, while Brandstadter was away for a few weeks, Flores got the idea to use a camera that he would hook up to a VCR to tape the incidents. Flores drilled a hole from his apartment, so that the camera could point out into the hallway and the lens was not visible from the hallway.
Then, on April 8, Flores went to the police with the tape, telling them, "now you'll see who is telling the truth."
He did not want to press charges, but police took over and told Flores he would be a witness, and the case was with the state of California.
Case Goes to Court
Prosecutors initially charged Brandstadter with assault with a deadly weapon, stalking, criminal threat and dissuading a person from making a charge. The latter charge was filed because Brandstadter kept telling Flores, "Go to the police and it will be the last thing you ever do," Maya said.
Jeffrey Hayden, who is Brandstadter's attorney, said the hate crime charge was "the incredible morphing charge."
Hayden said Brandstadter didn't think Mario was gay, but that the harassment was probably mitigated by Mario's mental disability.
"He's [Brandstadter] lived in the same building for a number of years without any incidents and he saw Mr. Flores as the neighbor from hell," Hayden said.
The defense investigation found that while there was no denying what happened on tape, Flores did have some quirky behaviors, such as circling the parking lot on his motorcycle, running power tools inside his apartment late at night, sweeping against people's doorways, and making animal noises to himself.
Also, Flores tended to latch onto people in the building who were nice to him, Hayden said. Brandstadter is sorry for what happened, and had even begun taking anger management classes on his own, before trial.
For Flores, the sentence was a victory for those who want to stick up for their rights.
"He's entitled to live wherever he wants without getting harassed all the time," Maya said.