MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Friends and family of the teen artist who died shortly after being hit by a police Taser held a vigil Saturday afternoon on Miami Beach.
Dozens showed up to the rally to mourn the 18-year-old Israel Hernandez’s death, and speak out against what they are calling police brutality.
“The authority has no reason to murder a youth for writing on a wall,” said Yolhem Kuna, who showed up to the rally to push for justice and reform. “They’re supposed to protect us not kill our children.”
The art community is remembering Hernandez by spray painting his tag name “Reefa” across South Florida and the world.
“There are artists from everywhere that are painting his name, large colored pieces for him not because they knew him because they knew what happened was wrong,” said graffiti artist “Lone.” “It’s letting him know that just because he’s no longer with us, his name will never die.”
One artist sent a harsh message to police officers, painting a mural of a pig tasing someone, with the message “RIP REEFA.”
According to police Hernandez was vandalizing a vacant building on 71st and Collins just after 5 a.m. on August 6th. When officers approached Hernandez, the teen took off running.
Officers began chasing Hernandez and despite several warnings to stop, police say he continued to flee. After the short chase, Hernandez and the officers met face-to-face at 71st and Harding Avenue, where Officer Jorge Mercado reportedly deployed his Taser to subdue the suspect.
After officers took Hernandez into custody, according to the incident report, he started to show symptoms of medical distress and Miami Beach Fire Rescue was dispatched to the scene.
Hernandez was transported to Mount Sinai Hospital where he was pronounced dead. His cause of death has not been determined. Autopsy reports, according to Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez, could take four to six weeks.
The family of Hernandez, a promising young artist, has expressed extreme grief and is looking for answers after the teen’s death.
“The artist, our friend, my brother the son of God, the poet, the sculptor, the photographer, the amazing friend, the philosopher,” said Hernandez’ sister, Offir.
Hernandez’s family, following the incident, has questioned police procedure and the Taser that was used on Hernandez.
Chief Raymond Martinez sent his condolences to the family of the teen. Martinez also said that Officer Mercado, who shot Hernandez once with a Taser before his death, was following police policy.
“Everything we have seen and reviewed so far is that the use of the Taser was appropriate,” he said. “It was a single tasing. It was not a multiple tasing by multiple officers.”
Click Here To View Miami Beach Police’s Standard Operating Procedure For Use Of Force
While the case is investigated, Officer Mercado has been placed on paid administrative leave.
“I can say he is very distraught over the incident. His intention was not to cause the death of this individual. He was trying to apprehend this individual and do his job,” said Martinez.
Meanwhile, Hernandez’s girlfriend Alexandria Morgan arrived in South Florida late Friday night to mourn her boyfriend.
“You were the best thing that ever happened to me and I know that you’re watching from above and you make me strive to be better and achieve my dreams and make the world a better place,” said Morgan. “He was just pure, he still watched Spongebob he had braces this kid was, had such a youthful spirit and positive energy.”
There were some reports from witnesses that after Hernandez was shot with the Taser, officers were celebrating and doing “high 5s” with their hands. The Chief said that could not be confirmed.
New details also emerged about Israel Hernandez. Police say the crime suppression time had been looking for Hernandez after some other buildings were tagged and sprayed with graffiti last year.
But police did not know Hernandez’s identity until Tuesday’s incident.
In addition to Hernandez’s family and friends, the American Civil Liberties Union is also concerned.
A.C.L.U. Executive Director for Florida Howard Simon told CBS4′s Peter D’Oench, “I know police like to say Tasers are less than lethal but they are not. There have been deaths and serious health consequences from using them.”
“The issue is whether this was an appropriate use of the Taser,” said Simon. “This calls for a complete and thorough investigation and not an investigation where police investigate themselves and exonerate themselves and take 2 years or so to do so.”
Simon said this could mean warrant changes in police policy about the use of Taser involving unarmed people.
Chief Martinez has requested an independent investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Attorneys for Hernandez family released statement: “Israel’s family is pleased that their pleas for an independent investigation into the actions of the police officers involved in this young mans death have been heard. The family members, like everyone else who knew and loved Israel. Are eager to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Morgan, Hernandez’s girlfriend, said whatever comes of the investigation, she is not angry.
“I forgive you,” said Morgan. “I know that’s something he’s gonna have to live with for forever and it is his cross to bear it’s not my place to place judgment, it’s God’s.”
Family members have set up a fundraiser to help pay for funeral services. Click Here to donate.