South Beach Menace

A scuffle minutes from the nation's sandy playground highlights its slimy underbelly

Angel Portas, a tall, burly man with a booming baritone, is one of the area's most significant property owners. His family once owned the Pelican Hotel on Ocean Drive. Since 1984 Portas, his parents, and his brother have owned three apartment buildings on Michigan Avenue and Fifth Street, including the one where Hernandez stood on the balcony that day in December.

They purchased the three properties (551, 557, and 559 Michigan) for a combined $420,000. Today they have a market value of $1.8 million, according to the county tax appraiser's Website.

Portas acknowledges the crime in the neighborhood is worse than in other areas of South Beach, like the streets and avenues closer to Lincoln Road and Española Way. But Portas claims that it used to be a lot worse in the Eighties and early Nineties. "Today the only problem is the borrachitos like Martin who hang outside the bodegas," he says.

Hipolito Hernandez with his son, Saul, just weeks after the boy’s birth.
Hipolito Hernandez with his son, Saul, just weeks after the boy’s birth.


Reynaldo Martin has droopy hazel eyes and short, buzzed black hair. He sports one tattoo of the grim reaper on the inside of his left forearm, and another reading "His Pain Your Gain!" on his left shoulder blade. He arrived in Miami from Cuba in 1994. A year later he was issued a Social Security number. He then established a brief residence in Hialeah before becoming homeless and landing on Miami Beach, according to public records.

"[Martin] was always bragging that he did seven years in Castro's prisons," claims Jamie Serrer, a 54-year-old Uruguayan car mechanic who lives in the apartment next door to Hipolito Hernandez and his girlfriend. "He'd always call me a 'faggot' or an 'ass' when he saw me." Martin's run-ins with the law began on February 28, 1999, shortly before 11:00 p.m., when he was behind the wheel of a gray 1988 Honda sedan traveling southbound on Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles Beach. The front end was damaged and both left tires had disintegrated to the rim.

Police Sgt. Roger Thomas spotted Martin at 158th Street, and turned on his lights and siren. But the Cuban immigrant continued driving, swerving erratically, according to an arrest affidavit. Thomas pulled up next to the Honda and screamed, "Pull over!"

Martin, whose head was covered in blood, stared at the cop but did not stop.

The Honda's engine finally conked out at 95th Street and Byron Avenue in Surfside, and Martin was taken into custody. His breath "reeked of alcohol," his speech was "extremely slurred," and he had "bloodshot" eyes, Thomas observed. The sergeant searched the vehicle and found two crack cocaine rocks on the driver's side floorboard. Martin was charged with two felonies, for fleeing a cop and cocaine possession. On March 22 of that year he received one year of probation.

Five months later Martin tested positive for coke and marijuana. He also failed to complete the required community service hours, so he was sent to county jail for 180 days.

After his release, it didn't take long for Martin to find trouble again. On October 10, 2002, at about 4:30 p.m., he was loitering near the entrance to the Tu Grocery convenience store on Sixth Street and Meridian Avenue. As two men strolled by Martin hit one of them in the back of the head with a rock. Then he tried to grab some money and a cell phone from him. The man slammed Martin into the store's window, smashing it and cutting the homeless man's hands. Martin took off running but the cops apprehended him a block away. He was arrested for felony armed burglary but — as with so many other cases in this quadrant — state prosecutors dropped the charges when the victim and witnesses declined to cooperate.

Mohammed Soukat Hossain, owner of Meridian Food Market at 812 Sixth St. as well as a nearby nutrition center and yoga studio, had an even more violent run-in with the Cuban immigrant on September 9, 2003. The incident — and prosecutors' tepid response — provide insight into how Martin was free to accost Hipolito Hernandez. "I'm very lucky," Hossain comments. "God saved me that day."

At 4:36 p.m. Hossain pulled up in front of his market. Martin approached and began to pound on the window of his car. "I told him I was going to call the police if he didn't leave," Hossain recalls. Then Martin pulled a knife from his front pocket and slashed it back and forth in the air, threatening to kill him.

The dark-skinned, bearded entrepreneur then drove to the market's back door and exited his car. Suddenly Martin came up behind him with a pal, 33-year-old Alberto Fernandez. The two were brandishing knives and shouting profanities. "[Martin] pulled back the knife to stab me," Hossain says. "I jumped backwards and screamed. All my employees came running to the back and this guy öFlaco' and his friend took off."

Martin and Fernandez were apprehended three minutes later on Fifth Street and Washington Avenue. Martin remain incarcerated in the county jail without bond for almost a year. On May 25, 2004, Martin pled guilty to felony aggravated assault and received a one-year sentence, but he was out of jail just two weeks after receiving credit for time served

Since 1999, Martin has been arrested 35 times and holds nine felony convictions.

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