Miami Beach Cop Won't Be Charged Over Taser Death of Graffiti Artist Reefa

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office announced today that it will not be bringing charges against Miami Beach Police Officer Jorge Mercado for the Taser-induced death of 18-year-old graffiti artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez-Llach

Back in August 2013, Hernandez-Llach was caught tagging a shuttered McDonalds at 71st Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The teen fled when confronted, and police gave chase. Eventually, Officer Mercado caught up with Hernandez-Llach and fired an X26 Taser stun gun. One prong hit the teen in a particularly vulnerable part of his chest right near his heart, and Hernandez-Llach died. In a first-of-its-kind ruling for Florida, medical examiners ruled that the death was a result of heart failure due to Tasering, rather than "excited delirium," a separate condition often linked to the devices. 

After reviewing the case for well over a year, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office announced today that it would not be able to get a jury to convict Officer Mercado of any crime, and will not bring charges. Despite the high levels of public outrage over the case, the result is not surprising. No police officer in Florida has been criminally charged for an on-duty shooting since 1989, let alone for an on-duty Tasering. 

"After the medical examiner determined that Israel Hernandez-Llach's death was accidental, it left little legal room to pursue any possible criminal charges," said Rundle in a statement. "Our extensive investigation determined that the sad tragedy of this situation is that no one involved intended or anticipated any serious injury occurring to this young man." 

The office released a 36-page report detailing their investigation that included a recreation of the events of that night and interviews with several witness, including the two friends Hernandez-Llach was with on that night. 

Prosecutors considered bringing charges of murder and manslaughter against Mercado but determined that his action didn't meet the legal definition of either. They believe that since he was using a weapon that is designed to be ideally non-lethal, he had no expectation that his actions would lead to the teen's death. Though Taser warns against aiming for the chest, prosecutors determined that since both Hernandez-Llach and Mercado were in motion at the time, Mercado's aim was not intentional. Mercado also only deployed the stun gun once, and only stunned the teen for one six-second cycle. The report also notes that at the time, Hernandez-Llach was running toward the officer. 

"It would therefore be unethical for us to charge a crime knowing that we did not believe that we could prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt," concludes the report. "Under the law as applied to all of the facts, we must, therefore, conclude that Officer Mercado's actions as they relate to the single six second discharge of his Taser at Mr. Israel Hernandez-Llach was legally justified." 

Interestingly, the report conflicts with New Times initial reporting, which found that Hernandez-Llach left only a single small "R" on the building as seen here

Miami Beach Cop Won't Be Charged Over Taser Death of Graffiti Artist Reefa (2)
Photo by Michael E. Miller

Instead, prosecutors believe that he was responsible for a much larger work of graffiti seen here. 

Miami Beach Cop Won't Be Charged Over Taser Death of Graffiti Artist Reefa (3)
Photo by Michael E. Miller

The report estimates that the total amount of damage would have exceeded $1,000, meaning Hernandez-Llach could have been faced felony charges in the case. However, the decision not to bring charges did not hinge on that estimate, with the report finding that Mercado's actions were legally justified even if Hernandez-Llach had only committed a felony. 

Hernandez-Loach's death lead to mass outrage in Miami, with several protestor demanding that Officer Mercado be fired and charged for his involvement in the death


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