Anger continues to grow over the killing of Israel Hernandez, who died Tuesday morning after a Miami Beach police cop Tasered the 18-year-old. In the last 24 hours, the cop who electrocuted Hernandez has been put on leave, while the teenager's father has called the incident an "assassination of a young artist and photographer."
Much of the debate centers on whether veteran officer Jorge Mercado was right to hit the teenager in the chest with the electronic weapon.
New Times has obtained a copy of MBPD's policy on using Tasers. It raises questions about whether Mercado was himself breaking the rules when he shocked Hernandez to death.
According to the Miami Beach Police Department's "Use of Force" procedural guidelines, cops should use Tasers when:
a) The subject is not in the physical control of the officer yet posses a threat;
b) The officer, based on objective reasonableness, perceives an imminent threat of physical force against himself, other persons, property or self-inflicted injury
Police Chief Ray Martinez has said that Hernandez was cornered by police, but then ran toward the officers and ignored commands to stop.
"The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident,'' Martinez told the Miami Herald.
Hernandez was hit once in the chest and collapsed, Martinez said. The teenager's friends, meanwhile, have accused cops of high-fiving and bragging about the arrest before noticing that Hernandez was dying.
If Martinez's description of the arrest is accurate, and cops felt like the scrawny teenager was about to assault them, then the Tasering would appear justified (setting aside the issue of whether cops should have been chasing a kid for tagging a derelict building in the first place).
MBPD policy also outlines when Tasers cannot be used:
a) when the subject is at an elevated location which poses a risk of great bodily harm or death to the subject should he fall;
b) when flammable gases or liquids are in close proximity to the subject or officer;
c) or when the subject is known or appears to be;
(1) A pregnant woman (unless the use of deadly force is justified);
(2) A child under the age of 13 (unless the use of deadly force is justified); (3) An elderly person (unless the use of deadly force is justified);
d) when the person is in control of a motor vehicle;
e) when on a handcuffed prisoner unless the officer can justify its use
Tasers are "not be discharged intentionally at the eyes, groin or face of a subject," the guidelines add.
None of these apply to Hernandez. But the policy also says "verbal warnings shall be issued to the subject prior to deploying the ECD to allow him the opportunity to comply with the officer's commands, unless the warning would provide a tactical advantage to the subject being taken into custody."
Did Mercado give Hernandez warning before using the Taser on him?
In a police report on the incident, another cop chasing the teenager said he was only out of his sight for "two seconds" before Mercado arrested him.
Did Mercado stun Hernandez without warning as he came around a corner? Or, as Martinez argues, did he use the Taser to avoid injuring the teen -- only for the plan to backfire?
We won't know until MBPD releases more info on the deadly arrest.
Also at issue is whether cops mistreated Hernandez after using the Taser on him. MBPD policy says cops shall "verbally direct" and "control and handcuff the subject" after shocking them. Felix Fernandez told the Herald that his friend was "shoved" against a wall.
In 2010, New Times reported that 52 people had been died after being Tasered by police in Florida, including five in Miami-Dade County. That makes Hernandez at least the sixth local victim to die after a stun guns attack.
According to Amnesty International, more than 500 people have been killed after police used Tasers on them since 2001.
"Even if deaths directly from Taser shocks are relatively rare, adverse effects can happen very quickly, without warning, and be impossible to reverse," said Susan Lee of Amnesty International. "What is most disturbing about the police use of Tasers is that the majority of those who later died were not a serious threat when they were shocked by police."
Here are MBPD's full "Use of Force" guidelines: