Unarmed Teen Street Artist Israel Hernández-Llach Tasered to Death by Miami Beach Police
An up-and-coming 18-year-old graffiti artist has died after being Tasered by Miami Beach police for running away from officers.
The Miami Herald reports Israel Hernández-Llach, aka ‘Reefa’, an “award-winning artist on the threshold of acclaim in Miami Beach art circles,” was tagging a shuttered McDonald’s around 5:00 am on Tuesday morning when he was spotted and chased by Miami Beach police officers.
Friend Félix Hernández, who was there with Hernández-Llach and another friend when police arrived on the scene, said five officers chased the teen before shoving him into a wall. Hernández says he then saw Hernández-Llach on the ground.
According to Miami Beach police, the fleeing teen actually ran towards officers, who feared for their safety and shot him with a Taser after he allegedly ignored commands to stop.
“The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident,” Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez told reporters, adding that the department “would like to extend its condolences” to the family of the slain teen.
The two friends who were present when Hernández-Llach was Tasered claimed the officers congratulated and high-fived each other after the incident.
“He was on the ground and the cops were making jokes,” 19-year-old Thiago Souza told the Herald.
After being shot once in the chest with the Taser, Hernández-Llach collapsed and displayed signs of distress. He was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital and was later pronounced dead.
CBS Miami reports friends have suggested the teen may have fled from police because he was an undocumented immigrant afraid of being deported, and that he had been smoking marijuana in the hours leading up to his death.
One woman says he may have ran because police had threatened him with brutality in the past.
“He had been warned before by police that if they caught him again they would beat the shit out of him,” Tracy West, who described Hernández-Llach as a “fantastic person and artist,” told the Herald.
West’s daughter Eleanor told the Herald that Hernández-Llach, who immigrated to the US from Colombia when he was 13 or 14, fell in love with Miami and never wanted to leave. He had recently launched a line of custom-designed skateboards and was gaining recognition for his street art as well as for his paintings, sculptures, photography and even writing.
“His art was everything to him,” she said.
“He wanted to change the world somehow through art,” his sister, 21-year-old Offir Hernández, added.
According to Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have been killed by police Tasers, supposedly a non-lethal weapon, since 2001. California leads the nation in police Taser killings at 92, followed by Florida (65) and Texas (37).
“Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the United States, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used,” asserted Amnesty’s Susan Lee. “This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative.”
Police, on the other hand, claim that Tasers offer officers a less-lethal means of dealing with dangerous or uncooperative suspects and their use has greatly reduced the number of deaths resulting from confrontations between officers and suspects.
“Tasers have been very successful for our department. Injuries to our police officers and our suspects have both gone down,” Guilderland, New York Police Capt. Curtis Cox told the Albany Times Union after his department was slammed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for alleged “reckless and poorly-regulated” Taser use in 2011.
More recently, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr abandoned a pilot program to equip some officers with stun guns following widespread opposition from residents and civil liberties groups.