Miami Beach police chief comments on Taser death
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) -- Friends and family have questions and concerns after a teen suddenly died while being arrested, and now, for the first time, the police chief of Miami Beach is weighing in.
Family and friends held a demonstration and a memorial for 18-year-old Israel Hernandez, who died after a Miami Beach Police officer Tased him. He was known in the art and skating community as ReeFa, and many signs on the abandoned building, stretching for almost a block, memorialized the teen with "RIP ReeFa."
Officer Jorge Mercado is now on paid administrative leave pending the outcome in the investigation.
Hernandez lived about 30 blocks north of the scene at Collins Avenue and 71st Street. In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, Hernandez ran from police who spotted him spraying graffiti, according to both friends of Hernandez and police, on the building at around 5 a.m. Tuesday.
"They had an encounter," said Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez. "They were gonna place someone under arrest for a crime. Even though it was only graffiti, it's still a crime. The subject ran from them. Now he's eluding police. It's resisting arrest, if you will. There were several times that Mr. Hernandez had the opportunity to give himself up."
Another officer joined the chase, briefly spotted him, but Hernandez eluded them. But a few seconds later, Mercado caught up with the teen at around 69th Street and Harding Avenue. "He continued to run, and at that moment he was running at the officer," said Martinez.
The police chief noticed that Mercado stands 5 feet 6 inches and weighs about 170 pounds, while Hernandez stood at 5 feet 10 inches and 155 pounds. "So the officer has to make a choice," said Martinez, "and the choice is either to utilize a Taser or to go hands-on with the individual and get physical, and that normally involves grabbing, tackling, knocking him to the ground, and then there's a fight usually associated with that."
Martinez said they noticed Hernandez was unresponsive after the Taser strike. "They noticed immediately," said Martinez. "Within a minute they were requesting fire rescue to the scene."
Felix Fernandez, who was with Hernandez that morning, said he saw police celebrating over the motionless body of his friend. "I seen him get smacked up against this wall right here," Fernandez said. "When I came back, he was just laying right here, and they were all laughing about it after they already handcuffed him."
Martinez counters, the officers would have never behaved liked that. "I would not think that they would be doing that, especially when you look at the timelines. The immediately noticed that he was under some kind of duress."
An hour later, doctors would pronounce Hernandez dead with an internal body temperature of 102 degrees. Though the medical examiner has finished with its necropsy, toxicology results will take weeks before they can make a final determination a cause of death.
In 10 years using Tasers, Miami Beach Police said, this has never happened, and they want to know what happened. The police department has asked the FDLE to get involved in the investigation.
Two attorneys for Hernandez's family, Todd McPharlin and Jose Javier Rodriguez from the Fort Lauderdale law firm Kelley Uustal, as well as co-counsel Jason Kreiss, released a statement that reads: "Israel's family is pleased that their pleas for an independent investigation into the actions of the police officers involved in this young man's 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. We fully expect the FDLE will conduct a thorough and independent investigation."
Hernandez's friends plan to return to the same spot where their friend died, at 1 p.m. Saturday, to protest what they are calling police brutality.
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