Tasered Teen’s Family Sues the City of Miami Beach.
A lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, stated that Miami Beach police used excessive force in shooting Israel Hernandez-Llach with a Taser stun gun, and then failed to give him proper medical attention afterward.
Hernandez-Llach, 18, died on August 6 after police shocked him with a taser when he was found spray-painting the wall of a shuttered McDonald’s restaurant, and ran from police.
The young artist, a Colombian immigrant who graduated from high school this summer, was not carrying a weapon and therefore, according the lawsuit, was posting no threat to police or the public.
According to the Miami Beach Police Department and witnesses, Hernandez-Llach ignored the police, took off running and a ten minute foot chase ensued. Officer Jorge Mercado, a 13-year veteran of the force, followed department policy for someone who was resisting arrest. Mercado has been placed on paid administrative leave – pending an investigation – for his involvement.
Hernandez-Llach’s death sent shockwaves across Florida sparking a rally decrying the Miami Beach Police. Local residents have formed into two camps, some outraged at the continued scandal surrounding the police department. Others like North Beach resident Jorge Fernandez, feel this was just a devastating accident.
“While, it is a terrible tragedy that the boy died, it must be said that he was running from police. He was tagging a building and he was breaking the law.” Fernandez, who has lived in North Beach for the last fifteen years, defended the police, further stating that the law was the law and the teen should not have run.
The incident also has reignited a debate over law enforcement’s use of stun guns.
“We believe this investigation will illustrate that the City of Miami Beach and Miami Beach Police do not properly train or supervise their police officers in the use of force, including the use of a Taser weapon,” said attorney Todd McPharlin. He also said that the lawsuit would help serve as an “avenue” for the family to investigate the death of the teen.
Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith told the SunPost that the complaint is replete with boilerplate, unsupported allegations.
“It is legally defective, filed prematurely, and does not serve the family well” he said. “The City of Miami Beach will respond to the complaint when the investigation is completed and all the facts are known”.
But, what has caused the teen’s family the most distress is the claim from Hernandez-Llach’s friends who witnessed the tasering, that officers allegedly “high-fived” each other while the teen lay dying on the ground. The lawsuit further states that the police were, “illustrating a reckless disregard for [his] life and safety.” and that there was a delay in calling paramedics; Hernandez-Llach was rushed Mount Sinai, where he was pronounced dead.
Thiago Souza, who was with Hernandez-Llach and acting as his lookout, said the chase began as soon as the police told them to stop. Hernandez-Llach took off and Souza lost sight of him and the police. He caught up to them only to discover Hernandez-Llach lying face-down on the sidewalk and the police standing over him.
‘I didn’t even know they fired a Taser. I thought they just had him down and he was arrested and was just tired,’ Souza told the Miami Herald.
‘I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,’ said Souza, 19. ‘I asked the cops ‘what happened to my friend?’
‘He [Mercado] said, “You should have seen how funny it was when his butt clenched when he got Tased” and they were all clapping and doing high-fives all over his body. It was almost like they were proud of what they did.’
Only after medics were called for Hernandez-Llach did Souza realize how serious the situation was.
‘The cop told me he was dead. It was just a powerful image seeing my friend there, with the medics pumping him.’
Hernandez-Llach father Israel Hernandez-Bandera, stated that his son’s death was “an act of barbarism and assassination”.
Hernandez-Llach, a sculptor, painter and photographer known as “Reefa” was laid to rest in an emotional ceremony at Vista Memorial Gardens in Miami Lakes last Wednesday. Jacqueline Llach, his mother, was seen clasping other family members as she sobbed and followed close behind his casket as around 100 relatives and friends gathered, Hernandez’s sister Offir and mother poured sand over the casket as it was lowered to the ground.
At the teen’s funeral, the family claimed that he was covered in bruises when he died.
“There were bad bruises on the body that shows it was more than just a laser,” family spokesperson Fabio Andrade told NBC Miami.
Neira Sheffer, a family friend who is a lawyer, added: “The way the police executed things was not the most appropriate.”
Taser International, the manufacturer of the police-issued Taser’s, suggests that police officers avoid shooting suspects in the chest, because of the risk of cardiac arrest in some people.
The suit, which further alleged that police violated the teenager’s civil rights, asked for damages of more than $15,000.
Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez said his department was investigating the incident and sent his condolences to the grieving family.