MIAMI (CBS4) – Friends and family representatives of an 18-year-old Miami Beach street artist who died after being stunned by a police Taser last August are calling for action after new developments in the case.
They say they are upset about a new finding by the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner that 18-year-old Israel Hernandez-Llach died from sudden cardiac arrest brought on by the Taser’s electrical current. The death has been ruled accidental. Hernandez-Llach was known as “Reefa.”
“Arrest Mercado, arrest Mercado,” chanted about a dozen demonstrators outside the Office Building for the Miami-Dade State Attorney.
They were referring to Miami Beach Police officer Jorge Mercado, who is under investigation after using his taser on August 6th.
“In our mind Mercado violated Miami Beach police policy,” said Subhase Kateel of the “Justice for Reefa” Committee.
They also marched inside the office building and spoke briefly with Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office. They say Griffith was not able to talk to them with specific details about the case. But Griffith released a statement saying his office was reviewing the case.
“While the recent Medical Examiner’s conclusion of accidental death due to electrical discharge is an extremely important piece of information, our decision will be based on the totality of the facts, including all of the reports from the City of Miami Beach Police department,” the statement said.
The statement said the State Attorney’s Office plans to finalize its report based on evidence, testimony from witnesses and the law.
Jorge Estomba, a family representative and part of the “Justice for Reefa” Committee, said after meeting with a doctor inside the Medical Examiner’s Office, he was convinced the death was not an accident.
“There was no mention of an accident, no mention of marijuana or drugs,” he said.
CBS4 News reported last week that sources said marijuana was detected in Hernandez-LLach’s system at the time of his death and the sources said he had an elevated body temperature and his brain scans pointed to signs of “excited delirium.”
Estomba told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “Israel Hernandez Junior was intentionally ‘tasered’ to death. Israel Hernandez Junior committed a misdemeanor. He did not commit a crime. He did not have any weapon him according to the police reports. He was someone who weighed 147 pounds and had seven officers subdue him. They pushed him and they tasered him. That is premeditated. That is a crime. This is not an accident. They are not supposed to be executioners.”
Friends of Hernandez-LLach also joined the demonstration.
Ethan Romano said, “I’m here to see justice for my friend. I believe it was not an accident.”
Last August 9th, Miami Beach Police Raymond Martinez told D’Oench that officer Mercado was distraught about the incident. Martinez said Mercado only wanted to arrest Hernandez-LLach and did not intend to harm him. Police said Hernandez-LLach disobeyed three orders to stop and ran at police who followed procedure.
They said Hernandez-LLach illegally sprayed graffiti on a shuttered McDonald’s restaurant and then took off running.
“The actions were appropriate,” said Martinez. “It was a single tase, by one Taser. There were not multiple ‘tases’ by multiple Taser(s). He had eluded police three different times. The police officer has to make a decision to be hands on or use a Taser.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is alarmed.
Executive Director Howard Simon said, “I think we have to stop talking about the taser as a non-lethal weapon. We’ve now had four people killed in South Florida at the hands of a taser. Three people have died since February. The other person was Israel Hernandez-Llach last August.”
“Once we understand that tasers are possibly lethal weapons then we’ve got to look at restricting the time when it is legitimate for police to use them. Using them has got to be proportionate to a threat,” said Simon.
“We can’t allow tasers to be used simply because they are the most available weapon for police,” he said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will review the Miami Beach police internal investigation. Prosecutors will determine if any laws were broken. That is routine for “in-custody” deaths.