On February 27, 2014, Miami-Dade County cops paid a visit to 37-year-old Maykel Antonio Barrera's Miami home. They knocked on the front door, but Barrera, high on cocaine and PCP, tried to slam the door and run out the back. Before he could escape, the cops shot him with a Taser — and Barrera died the next day in the hospital.
Coroners said he died of a drug overdose, but activists (including New Times columnist Uncle Luke) claim Barrera went into cardiac arrest, and they demanded local police stop using Tasers. That didn't happen. But now, Barrera's family is suing Miami-Dade County.
In February, a representative for Barrera's estate, Maria Del Carmen Montefu Acosta, sued Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade County Police, and eight officers in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, claiming police violated Barrera's civil rights during the arrest. Acosta has also filed a wrongful-death claim.
"At the time that the initial officers arrived at Maykel's home, Maykel was not in the vicinity of any other person and did not pose a danger to any other person," reads the complaint, which was transferred to federal court last Thursday. "Instead, contrary to professional police training and intervention, the officers created a conflict with Maykel knowing that Maykel was currently in an erratic state."
The Miami-Dade County lawyer handling the case, Bernardo Pastor, declined to comment. Barrera's lawyers, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to messages from New Times.
Barrera's story was central to a 2014 New Times investigation into Taser usage across South Florida. His death came during a string of Taser incidents at the hands of Miami cops that year. In fact, he was the second person tasered that very same day to die. Earlier on February 27, Hialeah Police tasered backyard boxer Treon Johnson after he threw coconuts from his roof at a dog that had bitten him. His family says he went into cardiac arrest after cops stunned him.
According to the suit, Barrera had been living with his mother when he decided to get high that day. He'd lived a rough life and had shot himself in the head at the age of 17. But after he left home to wander to a local gas station, Barrera's mother called the police to get some help for her son, the suit says.
Barrera eventually returned home. Then, the suit says, he was "still acting erratically," which led his mother to dial 911 a second time. Three cops responded to that call.
"Maykel became agitated at the arrival of the police; however, Maykel's mother assured Maykel that the police were there to help him and take him to a hospital," the suit says. "Consequently, Maykel opened the door to the home."
But Barrera immediately tried to bolt, which apparently led the cops to try to stun him. The first shot missed, and he escaped through the back door. Eventually, police cornered him about a block from his house. Then, the suit says, Barrera was "repeatedly tazed [sic] and beaten."
"During the beating, one officer had pinned Maykel to the ground by placing a knee on Maykel's chest while the other officers beat him," the suit adds.
As the cops handcuffed him, the suit says, Barrera claimed to be having trouble breathing. Once inside the back of a police cruiser, his breathing stopped, and police were forced to resuscitate him.
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He was transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital South and then to Ryder Trauma Center. On February 28, 2014, Barrera died.
Barrera, the suit says, "had a clearly established constitutional right to be free from excessive force used against him while unarmed and not acting in a manner which constituted a threat." The suit also alleges that MDPD failed to "properly train, discipline, mentor, or supervise" its officers.
The suit comes at a time when police-reform advocates nationwide are demanding that police exercise great caution when they fire their Tasers. (Miami Beach Police now advise against shocking subjects directly in the chest after the death of Israel "Reefa" Hernandez-Llach, a young graffiti artist who died after being tasered.)
In June, Glenn Greenwald's website the Intercept chronicled the struggles that Missouri man Bryce Masters faces every day since he was tasered as an 18-year-old in 2013. After taking a Taser shot directly to the chest, Masters' heart stopped. He was left with permanent brain damage.