South Beach Menace

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

According to Ed Griffith, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, he was convicted of low-level drug felonies that don't warrant hard prison time. Griffith says Martin received the maximum punishment for those crimes.

Jorge Luis Rangel, a local bartender who lives in an apartment at 545 Michigan Ave., last saw Martin on Christmas day of last year, just three days before his conflict with Hipolito Hernandez. The homeless man was passed out on the stoop of the bartender's building. "It's a damn shame what he did to that kid," Rangel laments.


Reynaldo Martin was arrested twelve times by Miami Beach police in 2006
Reynaldo Martin was arrested twelve times by Miami Beach police in 2006
Hector Serna was walking his three dogs when he saw Martin retrieve the knife he used to stab Hipolito Hernandez in the neck.
Hector Serna was walking his three dogs when he saw Martin retrieve the knife he used to stab Hipolito Hernandez in the neck.

Isabel Morales has laid out some photographs of her lover and best friend, Hernandez, on a conference room table. In one of them, he flexes his left bicep in front of a dismantled water heater. In another, the handsome, goateed Puerto Rican is cheek-to-cheek with his son, then only one month old. "Hipolito always wore his heart on his sleeve," Morales says. "Even when he was broke, he would give me money for gas. He was like that with everybody."

Hipolito was an active young man, she says. He lifted weights regularly, which added muscle to his towering six-foot-two frame. He enjoyed playing baseball and basketball recreationally at Flamingo Park with his brother and his nephew.

In addition Hernandez didn't mind acting as a surrogate father to Morales's four-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, Morales says. "She keeps asking me where Hipolito is," Morales says, choking back tears. "I tell her he is on a trip, because I don't want her to know what happened to him."

Morales, a soft-spoken young lady with wide brown eyes, met Hernandez in May 2005 at a gas station in Hialeah. "I'll never forget. He was wearing army fatigues," Morales says. "I have a thing for men in uniform." After about a month of dating, Hernandez and Morales moved into their cozy, one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of 559 Michigan. She didn't have a job, but Hernandez worked as a painter for Miami-based Unique Painting & Waterproofing.

It didn't take long for the couple to become accustomed to the homeless people who passed through the complex's courtyard. "It was kind of funny actually," Morales says. "One time we woke up in the middle of the night because we heard some guy screaming, 'Give me back my rock or I'm gonna call the cops on you!'"

For the most part, the bums were harmless. The couple would sometimes share a plate of food with "Vicente," a short, emaciated drunk who took shelter beneath the building's stairwell. "One time [Hernandez] brought me a pillow and a blanket," Vicente says in Spanish. The toothless hobo, who came to Miami Beach by way of the Dominican Republic, doesn't know much about Reynaldo Martin. "I stay away from that cat," he says.

Sometime in November 2005 Isabel Morales ran into Reynaldo Martin for the first time. "He was leaning up against the window of the grocery store on Jefferson Avenue," she recalls. "And he was telling me, öOye, mami' and some really dirty stuff no lady should put up with. I just turned my head and kept walking."

When she returned to the apartment, Morales told Hernandez of the encounter. Later the couple headed to the store. When they approached Martin, "Hipolito told him, öI am not going to fight you or threaten you. I'm just letting you know this is my girl, please respect her,'" Morales says. Then when Hernandez brought up the earlier comments, "of course, [Martin] denied it," she says. "After that, we'd always see him getting arrested, and the next day he'd be out on the corner again, drinking."

Morales says Martin would also become angry whenever the tenants of 557 and 559 Michigan secured the gates of the wrought iron fence. "He used to come and go through the courtyard whenever he pleased," Morales says. "He'd curse and scream at himself whenever the gate was locked."

Over the next thirteen months Martin tried to pick fights, Morales continues. "He would constantly harass [Hipolito] and our neighbors," she says.

That year Martin was arrested seven times — twice for felony cocaine possession (he was convicted once). He served 30 days before being released in June. Between July and October he was arrested four times on misdemeanor charges of drinking in public. On November 16, 2005, he and an accomplice stole a bunch of MP3 players from the Spec's music store on Fifth Street and Collins Avenue. They took off in a stolen blue Mercury Sable, ran into an occupied car, then, after passing through Overtown, were picked up on NE Fifteenth Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Martin remained in the pokey until February 9, 2006, when he pled guilty to felony grand theft auto and was fined $498. Astonishingly he was released the following day after receiving credit for time served.

In 2006 Martin was popped twelve times by Miami Beach police for marijuana possession, weapons violations, drinking in public, and other petty crimes. This past April 13, when two plainclothes detectives stopped him for trying to sell a parking permit to a pedestrian on Sixth Street and Jefferson Avenue, Martin informed them someone else stole the decal: "Jose broke into the vehicle and gave it to me to sell for $10."

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