News: A March for Answers

Family and Friends of Israel Hernandez Face Many Road Blocks to Justice.

Reefa’s family marching downtown. Photo: Frank M.

On the Monday after the cause of death for Israel “Reefa” Hernandez was released, Jorge Estomba lead a group of about a dozen activists, lined up in pairs, inside the building of the Miami State Attorney’s Office.

Some held up peace signs for the benefit of the television cameras recording around them, others a defiant fist, but all were quiet as they unloaded their possessions on a conveyer belt and passed through a metal detector.

Estomba is a little older than the average Justice for Reefa Committee member, he has stark white hair and a countenance that can easily change from heartbroken to outraged. He is a friend and a spokesman for the Hernandez family; he is the fire and brimstone for a family in grief.

He is also getting used to marching inside the SAO building for answers. As well as calling Medical Examiner Mark Shuman MD, for answers.

“We are almost friends at this point,” Estomba jokes bitterly.

Bitter at the fruitlessness.

The recent Justice For Reefa marches into the SAO building have ended similarly: with quick lip service, and no new information.

A month ago, six months after the death of the teen, a contingent of committee members walked in and asked to speak with the office of Kathy Rundle, Miami’s State Attorney. They were met in the lobby by Ed Griffith, Rundle’s Press handler. He shook his head in a not-this-again fashion when saw the familiar faces.

He had nothing new for them, the SAO couldn’t move ahead with out a wrapped investigation from the Miami Beach Police Department and Medical Examiner’s report. When the conversation seemed to be in a loop, Griffith threw his hands up, and excused himself from the room. To the reporters that tagged along he said he would only give a comment via email.

This month a portion of the medical examiner’s report was made public, Hernandez died from a “Sudden Cardiac Death,” brought on by a “Conducted Energy Device.”

Griffith was waiting for group in the lobby, visible to the throngs of camera crews filming from the sliding glass doors. Griffith heard patiently as Estomba asked for criminal charges to be brought to MBPD Officer Jorge Mercado, or that at the very least he be suspended without pay until the investigation was over.

Griffith then said what he would later send out as a press release about reviewing the “In-Custody Death” and how the offices conclusions would be determined by “the totality of the facts” including the reports from the MBPD. He turned to walk away, while Subhash Kateel was asking him about specific statutes broken by Mercado.

“You dont want to hear us out?” asked Kateel.

“That’s all we have to say, we can’t say anymore,” said Griffith. Any punishment for Mercado needed to be brought up with the MBPD.

The crowd grumbled and someone asked for a date on the completion of the investigation, ‘once it gets done’ was not being accepted.

“No artificial date,” Griffith said. “No artificial date, your asking for artificiality.”

He walked away, then the Reefa committee started a rumbling chant of : “No Justicce No Peace.”

The acoustics of the lobby made it sound more savage, random people turned to look at the chant that had not turned into “Arrest Mercado, Arrest Mercado.” A security guard’s eyes widened, and his hand went to his side.

The Justice for Reefa committee kept chanting while briskly walking to the exit.

After seven months, the family and supporters of Hernandez have a very important piece of information: he died of a heart attack caused by a taser, and up to now- only the only drug in his system was Marihuana.

Israel’s sister Offir Hernandez posted an emotional video on her Facebook profile when she got the news.

“We have understood that my brother died of a heart attack because of the taser,” She said “A healthy young boy who exercised, who ate healthy, how can they come and tell me that he died of a heart attack. “

His sister believes that he was tasered when he was already submitted and sitting. Friends that were with Israel have said as much in the media, even pointing out that officers high fived one another when they captured Hernandez.

Offir continues:“We want justice, how can we can live in a society where they kill young boys young girls for a mistake they did when they were young? We have to stop this.”

Supporters like to remind the public that they know the teen committed a crime, a misdemeanor, but that he did not deserve a death penalty.

“Absolutely unjustified for a misdemeanor, for a young man 140 pounds who ran,” said Estomba.

“I remember when I threw eggs in Halloween, probably a lot of you did,” he continued, “if you threw eggs and the police came after me, I ran. I would have been dead, and 20 million kids in this country would have been dead.”

“How would you like to have been tased to death for throwing eggs?” he said.

Officer Mercado continues to serve on the MBPD while the investigation is on going. He was placed on a 72 hour “Administrative Leave” after the Hernandez incident. However, the MBPD tells the SunPost that his leave was a customary police protocol whenever there is an “in custody death” and that it should not be taken as “punitive in nature.”

Aside from that clarification the MBPD is not commenting on the matter.

In a response to an inquire by the SunPost:

“The Miami Beach Police Department will not be commenting on the Israel Hernandez case. Please contact the Miami Dade State Attorney for any questions you might have. ”

The SAO won’t talk until the MBPD is done with their investigation. As for the full autopsy report, according to Griffith the SAO currently doesn’t have it, but will not release the contents until the investigation is over, he told the SunPost.

While it can seem that one department is just passing the buck to another department, Estomba points it directly to Miami’s State Attorney, Rundle, and her unwillingness to prosecute bad cops.

“Apparently many people around here are scared of her, we have had 12 years of her in that charge…all the [police] excessive force , all the brutality, and know all the crime…” he said.

“Yet No one says anything to the madame attorney general. Where has the madame attorney general been for 12 years during all the crime the police have committed in this county? In the united states there are no privileged classes, it’s Justice for all. The police is not a privileged class.”

“I ask her to do here job, this is not any kind of accident, he committed a crime,” said the white haired Estomba.

About Frank Maradiaga


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