Israel Hernandez Killing: Protesters Demand State Attorney Charge Cop Who Tased Reefa
Ethan Romano demands justice over his friend's death
Michael E. Miller
Friends of Israel "Reefa" Hernandez gathered this morning outside the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office to demand the arrest of the cop who killed the teenager.
Armed with an autopsy report confirming that Reefa died because he was Tasered -- and not because of drugs or "excited delirium," the condition often used to explain deaths connected to a Taser -- the protesters called on Katherine Fernandez Rundle to charge Miami Beach police officer Jorge Mercado for the August 6 incident.
"I want to see the man who killed my friend [put] in jail," said Reefa's friend, Ethan Romano. "Because if he can take a life, he should do life [in prison]."
Jorge Estomba, a member of the group Justice for Israel Hernandez, said he first learned details of the autopsy report on Thursday during a conversation with associate Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Shuman.
"Dr. Shuman told me, 'I have the report that I've been waiting for for 12 weeks because the Miami Beach Police Department has not sent me their report. But now I can tell you Mr. Estomba that the cause of death was a cardiac arrest due to the direct application of the Taser, of the electronic gun,'" Estomba said.
"That was as far as the conversation went," Estomba said. "There was no mention of any accident."
Today, however, the State Attorney's Office released a statement confirming that the autopsy report -- which has not been released -- deemed Reefa's death "accidental."
The State Attorney's Office is still reviewing the circumstances of the "In-Custody Death" of Israel Hernandez. While the recent Medical Examiner's conclusion of "accidental death due to electrical discharge" is an extremely important piece of information, our decision will be based upon the totality of the facts, including all of the reports from the City of Miami Beach Police Department. Once we have received everything from the police department, the State Attorney's Office will move toward finalizing our report based on the evidence, the testimony of witnesses and the law.
Estomba said Hernandez's family was outraged.
"Israel Hernandez Jr. did not fall on a Taser. Israel Hernandez Jr. was intentionally Tasered to death," he said. "Israel Hernandez Jr. committed a misdeameanor. He did not commit a crime. He did not have any weapons on him, according to all the police reports... Here is a man who weighed 140 some pounds and had seven police officers go to subdue him. They pushed him and they Tasered him. That's not an accident. That's premeditated. That is a crime. Let's make that clear.
"The family is very surprised and in shock, that's why they are not here," he said. "They are in shock and in grief that this... could be labeled an 'accident.' If that's the case, that's a joke. That is disrepectful. That is not justice."
Michael E. Miller
Both Estomba and Romano claimed cops could have arrested Reefa without resorting to a Taser.
"What happened to him wasn't something that he deserved," Romano said. "Even though what he was doing seemed wrong to some people, he shouldn't have died for something that wasn't such a harsh thing."
"The officer has the right to detain the young man because he did commit a misdemeanor," Estomba admitted, but argued that Tasering the teenage skateboarder was unnecessary.
"He was punished brutally by the police department for a misdemeanor, like throwing paper in the street," Estomba said. "Are we now going to be tasered because we... litter? No, that's not accidental. They are not executioners."
Estomba also slammed State Attorney Rundle for allegedly protecting bad cops.
"In Miami, Ms. Rundle is the queen," he said. "Nobody wants to touch her. Well, in 12 years, this attorney Rundle has not gone through any sort of investigation with any police officer in this county."
"They [cops] have had a free hand to do whatever they want," Estomba continued. "They are a privileged class. They people who are abusing civil rights and using excessive force. And it's her responsibility as an elected official to start doing her job."
Israel Hernandez is the first person in Florida whose death has been officially attributed to Tasering, but he's far from the first to die after being hit with the device. In the past month, three other young men in Miami have died after being stun-gunned by police.
Estomba said cops have to quit using Tasers for non-violent subjects.
"I remember when I threw eggs on Halloween," he said. "When the police came after me, I ran. I would have been dead - and 20 million kids in this country would have been dead - when you commit a misdemeanor and you run and your Tased. There would have been millions of kids dead in this country."
"It's absolutely unjustified [to use a Taser] for a misdemeanor because a young man, 140 pounds, ran [from police]," he said.
"How would you like to be Tased to death if you threw eggs when you were young?"