De Facto Punishment For Graffiti Tagging Derelict Buildings In Miami Beach: Death

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A Miami Beach resident died last week after he ran from police, who’d caught him graffiti tagging an abandoned building and decided to put an end to the ensuing foot pursuit by shooting the offender in the chest with a Taser.

Israel Hernandez-Llach, 18, was pronounced dead at an area emergency room after Miami Beach Police caught up with him and shot him once with the Taser. Friends at the scene said the officers were giving each other high fives and laughing as Hernandez-Llach lay on the ground. There’s no mention of that in the police report and no other way to verify it other than eyewitness accounts.

Despite reports from his friends indicating he was a generally good person, it’s obvious Hernandez-Llach appeared to be violating the law and defacing property that wasn’t his when he elected to run from police, fleeing his alleged target — an abandoned, boarded-up former McDonald’s restaurant. There have also been conflicting reports about his legal status as an immigrant from Columbia.

But Miami Beach police neither knew nor cared about any of that when they gave chase. One family attorney told Reuters on Thursday: “There is no justification for this kind of action for a second-degree misdemeanor,” an offense for which he likely wouldn’t have faced prosecution. A typical punishment for Hernandez-Llach’s alleged crime is a brief stint doing community service.

“I saw four or five cops converge on him and hit him up against the wall,” said Felix Fernandez, one of Hernandez-Llach’s friends, who was on police lookout duty while the graffiti artist worked his magic. “They were making jokes about how he stiffened up when he was tased. They were congratulating each other on how they caught him.”

Miami Beach police are bound by a standard operation procedure that confines their use of Tasers to a “subject  [who] is not in the physical control of the officer yet poses a threat,” or to situations whenever “the officer, based on objective reasonableness, perceives an imminent threat of physical force against himself, other persons, property or self-inflicted injury.”

Hernandez-Llach, who went by the street handle “Reefa” in his graffiti endeavors, also had more serious art aspirations and had gained a small following among the Miami art community as a sculptor and painter. His work had been accepted for showings at area museums and galleries.

“In my 20 years as an art teacher, Israel was one of the most unique and talented students I have ever encountered,’’ Frank O’Hare, Hernandez-Llach’s art teacher at Miami Beach High, told the Miami Herald last week.

The medical examiner’s office is not ruling on a cause of death until the results of an autopsy can be reviewed. Miami Beach police officer Jorge Mercado, who fired the Taser that struck Hernandez-Llach, has been placed on mandatory 72-hour paid leave per departmental guidelines.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.