If Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez was thinking of a way to regain public trust after a string of embarrassing incidents involving his officers, this was not it: a dead teenager, a cop under investigation, and a community up in arms.
It all began last Wednesday morning, when New Times received a tip that Miami Beach cops had fatally Tasered someone the day before. By afternoon, after we broke the story, the tragic details went viral worldwide.
Israel Hernandez, an 18-year-old artist, skateboarder, and high school student, was tagging an abandoned McDonald's at the corner of Collins Avenue and 71st Street around 5 a.m. Tuesday when cops spotted him. They chased him several blocks, forcing him to jump over a fence and slam onto the hood of a car in his bid to escape. But cops cornered the kid.
What happened next isn't clear. Police claim the scrawny teenager rushed at them. What's certain is that Officer Jorge Mercado shot Hernandez in the chest with his Taser X26 gun.
Hernandez's friends say cops shoved the stunned skater into a wall, high-fived each other, and joked about the easy arrest. Only then did they notice Hernandez was dying. The teen was whisked to Mount Sinai Medical Center, but it was too late. Doctors declared him dead at 6:15 a.m.
Outrage exploded on the internet and around town. Thursday night, friends and family members met at the spot where Hernandez died, tagging their own farewell messages alongside his last spray-painted words. The dead teen's father, Israel Hernandez-Bandera, demanded an independent investigation into what he called an "assassination."
On Friday, the City of Miami Beach responded with an unusual request for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent review of the killing.
Those closest to Hernandez already have their minds made up, however: A kid should not have been chased and shot with a Taser for tagging a rundown eyesore of a building. "I just can't believe it," said Hernandez's best friend, Rafael Lynch, on the verge of tears. "I still have his hat and his board. They still smell like him. It's crazy."
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Hernandez and Lynch often hung out together at MIA Skate Shop in Sunny Isles, where Lynch worked. Lynch says his friend, a Colombian immigrant who had only recently gotten his papers, was a brilliant and peaceful kid.
"This dude wasn't a regular dude," Lynch says. "I loved this person. He was very different. He had a passion for skating and art and many other things. He taught me a lot."
Hernandez and Lynch had planned to start their own business designing specially shaped skateboard decks. That dream has been shattered. "He had a short mission here in life, but it has affected the way I live for sure," Lynch says. "I can't do nothing to get him back. All I can do now is finish what we started, but it's just me now — alone."