MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – Israel Hernandez-Llach’s friends and supporters gathered at the storefront the 18-year old was spray painting with friends nearly two years ago before he died.
Their pain and anger surfaced again during an impromptu vigil after finding out earlier State Attorney Kathryn Fernandez-Rundle will not file criminal charges against Miami Beach Police Officer Jorge Mercado.
“I don’t know what Jorge Mercado looks like. So I thought honestly today that was gonna be released as well. And I thought charges were gonna be pressed against him so I would never have to see him on the streets of Miami Beach,” said Vivian Azalia, a close friend of Hernandez-Llach. “So yeah, her apology doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Hernandez-Llach, also known as ‘Reefa,’ died after Mercado shocked him with a Taser on August 2013.
The 18-year old’s death prompted an investigation into whether the officer was justified in using the stun gun.
The final report in the death of Hernandez-Llach was issued on Thursday by the State Attorney’s Office.
The new report said, “The investigation has determined that the officer was legally justified in his use of force and no criminal charges will be filed against the subject officer.”
Hernandez-Llach’s family said they are saddened by the decision.
“The family is obviously saddened by the decision,” said the family’s attorney Todd Falzone. “They’re disappointed. They wanted the officer to be charged and prosecuted.”
Hernandez was at an abandoned restaurant where police said they caught him spraying graffiti on the walls.
Police said Hernandez ran after they spotted him doing graffiti on an empty McDonald’s on 71st Street and Collins Avenue.
“The decedent once again ignored verbal commands to stop, and continued running …He ran towards Officer Mercado, who also ordered him to stop,” the report stated.
Hernandez ignored their orders to stop, police said, and was shocked once with the Taser in the chest.
“When the decedent continued running towards him without stopping, Officer Mercado deployed his Taser X-26 Conducted Energy Device at the decedent, and the decedent was taken into custody,” the report stated.
It went on to say when he was taken into custody, he appeared “unresponsive.” That’s when they called in Miami Beach Fire Rescue who rushed him to Mount Sinai Medical Center where he was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Department determined “that the manner of death was accidental” since his heart failed because of an electric device discharge.
Regardless of what the Medical Examiner’s Department found, Azalia said she and others witnessed a different story.
“My friends watched him die on the floor. My friends watched the cops high-five each other. My friends watched the cops pick up Reefa’s hand and it fall to the floor. My friends watched cops laugh at Reefa like dead,” said Azalia.
Law enforcement considered the taser not as deadly as a gun, but Hernandez-Llach’s family attorney argues that point.
“We believe this product is a dangerous product. We believe this product should be characterized as lethal force. It certainly was for Mr. Hernandez,” said Falzone. “This young man was running at the time the Taser was employed and the Taser was deployed into his chest.”
Falzone went on to say, “this device is not supposed to be launched into somebody’s chest for the very reason that it can kill you.”
Miami Beach Police had concluded “that no criminal acts were committed by Officer Mercado.”
In May 2015, Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded their independent investigation and said in part “after a comprehensive investigation into this use of force incident and careful review of the testimony of officers, civilian witnesses, and autopsy and brain study analysis, it was determined that the actions taken by MBPD Jorge Mercado were consistent with the physical evidence and overall testimony of law enforcement officer and civilian witnesses.”
Mercado had been placed on administrative leave after the incident but later was placed back on duty.
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle issued a statement on the decision saying, “After the medical examiner determined that Israel Hernandez-Llach’s death was accidental, it left little legal room to pursue any possible criminal charges.
Our extensive investigation determined that the sad tragedy of this situation is that no one involved intended or anticipated any serious injury occurring to this young man.”
Hernandez’s family was too emotional to go to the vigil after Thursday’s news.
However, their attorney did tell CBS4 earlier that they have filed a lawsuit accusing the City of Miami Beach, Officer Mercado and Taser of negligence.
Those who did attend the vigil hope Hernandez-Llach is remembered for everything that was good about him.
“I want him to be remembered for his art. For his sense of humor. For the love that he had for everyone. For his love for reggae music,” said close friend Ashley Lawrence. “He could never be described as a criminal especially if you knew him. He had braces. He loved Spongebob. He’s just like the most innocent person. The best. We miss him.”