Officer involved in Tasing death of teen probed
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) -- A South Florida police officer involved in the Tasing death of graffiti artist Israel Hernandez is under scrutiny for past incidents on and off duty that elicited a trail of complaints and prompting an open Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.
FDLE officials are probing the Aug. 6 incident during which Miami Beach Detective Jorge Mercado caught 18-year-old Hernandez spray-painting an abandoned McDonald's at 71st Street and Collins Avenue, at around 5 a.m. Investigators are questioning whether Mercado should have used a Taser gun to subdue the teen, who fled from authorities.
Police audio captures the moment when Miami Beach officers realized Hernandez was having a medical reaction to having been Tased and called for backup.
Officer: "We don't know if the guy is having a seizure. Roll fire rescue on a 3. He is breathing."
Dispatcher: "Backup, the rescue reference a cardiac arrest, 71 Street and Harding, 71 Street and Harding Avenue."
Hernandez was pronounced dead at the scene.
The incident comes on the heels of a string of accusations documented in Mercado's lengthy personnel file. In 2007, Mercado, a 13-year law enforcement veteran, was accused of breaking a man's nose during an off-duty brawl in the bathroom of Miami-Dade County Auditorium, causing the victim to file a battery complaint. According to the report, a witness "observed as both Mr. Dapena [the alleged victim] and Detective Mercado were standing face-to-face in the restroom arguing, at which time Detective Mercado punched Mr. Dapena."
In 2008, two Iraq War veterans visiting South Beach from New York claimed that Mercado and fellow officers beat and Tased them in their South Beach hotel room following an argument between the veterans and a bouncer at Mango's, a South Beach nightclub. According to a letter from New York congressman Jose Serrano, Mercado and his colleagues tracked down the claimants, one of whom is quoted as saying that Mercado "continuously attacked my face" and "attacked" the second veteran "with a Taser gun and punched [him] in the head and back." Both men had traveled to Miami Beach to celebrate their return from active duty in the Middle East. The men's complaint was ultimately withdrawn.
Records show that Mercado was reprimanded by FDLE officials for flunking a drug test and was temporarily suspended from the force.
Mercado was also among a squadron of officers allegedly involved in a 2011 overtime scandal. Over a three-year period beginning in 2007, Mercado reportedly earned $66,000 in questionable overtime. Records also reveal that Mercado said he was working a special robbery detail when he was actually vacationing in Orlando and, on a separate occasion, he was at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino while claiming to be on the job.
In addition, Mercado was also investigated for handcuffing and arresting a 59-year-old Miami Beach woman who had tried to make her way through heavy traffic during the 2012 Memorial Day weekend. She claimed Mercado would not let her access the street where she lives. The police report states Mercado "was rude to her and used bad judgment in arresting her" when she approached the officer to show him proof of address.
With the exception of the failed drug test, the 39-year-old officer was either cleared of his charges or his cases were closed for lack of evidence.
Miami Beach Police and Hernandez' family declined to comment for this story.
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