Hours after Delbert Rodriguez, a 21-year-old street artist known as "Demz," died last night, the Miami Police Department reiterated its version of what happened: An undercover cop chased Rodriguez after spotting him tagging a building in Wynwood early Friday morning. When the cop turned a corner, police say, Rodriguez was low to the ground in dark clothing; the officer couldn't avoid hitting him. The death, police say, was a tragic accident.
But an account provided to Riptide by Danny Garcia, a friend who was with Rodriguez that night, raises new questions about the pursuit. "The cop was right behind him, and he had no time to hide," Garcia says of Demz.
Riptide also reviewed the internal affairs file of the officer involved, Det. Michael Cadavid. It shows the officer has faced civilian complaints for aggressive policing, road rage, and abusing business owners while out of uniform. None of those complaints was substantiated, but Cadavid was sanctioned for his role in an infamous Halloween fight caught on camera.
Miami PD has stuck by Cadavid. Javier Ortiz, the president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), said the officer had been in daily contact to inquire about the status of Rodriguez and was praying for him.
"The Miami FOP is in full support of Officer Cadavid's actions," Ortiz said. "For every action there's a reaction: If Mr. Rodriguez would have not run away from police when he was being challenged regarding his criminal mischief, this would have never occurred."
But both Garcia's tale and Cadavid's record are sure to raise questions about Demz's death, which came hours before protesters marched in Wynwood against police brutality.
"My son was struck by an irresponsible undercover cop, for painting on a wall," Nannette Kaniaris, his mother, wrote in an email to a New Times reporter.
Rodriguez grew up in Pembroke Pines, where he attended Charles W. Flanagan High School. That's where Garcia met him. The pair had lost touch after high school, but several months ago they reconnected. Since then, the pair had been hanging out virtually every day, Garcia says, often going to parties and tagging together.
"He just loved art," Garcia says. "He would tell me that graffiti just made him feel alive, basically."
Rodriguez had gone through a recent rough spell, his friend says, dropping out of Miami Dade College and even spending nights in his car. But last week he'd found work as a parts puller at National Auto Parts in Opa-locka and was getting back on track.
Last Thursday, Garcia says, Rodriguez called him around 8 p.m., a few hours after he'd gotten off work, and asked if he wanted to hang out. Rodriguez picked up Garcia in Hollywood and the two drove to Wynwood, where they stopped at a couple of bars, including Wood Tavern, and soaked in the vibrant Art Basel scene.
"We were basically, you know, just walking around," Garcia says, "enjoying everyone's company, all the artists."
At one point they met a couple of guys visiting from Philadelphia, fellow spray painters, who asked Garcia and Rodriguez to show them around. For a while the four walked around painting, loosely sticking together; eventually Garcia and Rodriguez ended up on NW Fifth Avenue, about 20 or 30 feet apart but on opposite sides of NW 24th Street.
As Garcia was finishing up his tag, he says, he glanced over his shoulder to check on his friend. That's when he saw the flashing red and blue lights from an unmarked silver Chevrolet sedan -- a patrol car driven by Det. Michael Cadavid -- approaching. Garcia took off sprinting. As he ran, he glanced back to check on Rodriguez, only to see a flash of his friend's white T-shirt as he abruptly rounded the corner onto 24th Street, followed closely by the Chevy.
Garcia kept running but then returned to the scene a few minutes later after hearing ambulance sirens.
He questions the police's suggestion that they lost sight of Rodriguez or that his friend would have been able to hide between parked cars or lunge into the street. There simply wasn't time, he says.
"It was literally seconds," he said of the time from when Garcia began running to when he would have been hit as Cadavid's car turned the corner. "There wasn't no 'He was running and then he hid,' like they said. He tried to cross the street, and whatever happened, the cop struck him."
A widely circulated photo posted on Instagram seems to support Garcia's claims. In the photo (which is graphic, and posted after the jump), Rodriguez is splayed on the ground in front of the Chevy, stopped midturn as it rounded the corner. Only one parked car is visible near Rodriguez. "Where would he hide, just on the road?" Garcia asks. "That whole story they gave is baloney."
"It looked like he was trying to run across," Garcia adds. "And the cop turned the corner really quick and struck him... I'm really hoping it was an accident, but I don't know if he purposely ran my friend over."
Cadavid's internal affairs file, reviewed by Riptide, also points to a history of complaints about aggressive behavior both in and out of uniform.
In eight years on the job, Cadavid has faced eight citizen complaints and five investigations for use of force on the job. Those allegations were all ruled "inconclusive" except for an infamous Halloween fight in Coconut Grove, where IA found he'd been negligent of duty and guilty of improper procedure.
In that case, Miami cops were caught on video during a boisterous Coconut Grove Halloween street party throwing partygoers to the ground, seemingly at random.
Among those cops was Cadavid, who arrested one of the partygoers. IA investigators later cited him for failing to indicate the other police officers who assisted him.
Among the citizen complaints is one accusing the officer of road rage. Miguel Puerto complained in August 2010 that he was driving on Flagler Street when he passed a Ford Taurus on the right; for several blocks, he said, the Taurus then tailgated him, even changing lanes whenever he did. Eventually, the Taurus pulled up beside him and a man wearing a full beard and a "white wifebeater" -- Cadavid -- told him to pull over and then said he was a cop.
Puerto, unconvinced Cadavid was a real cop, asked to see a badge. "You can do this the easy way or the hard way," Puerto said Cadavid told him. Puerto called 911; Cadavid showed a badge and told him that he'd pulled him over "because you were driving like an asshole and you cut me off." That complaint was ruled "inconclusive."
On two other occasions, business owners complained that Cadavid abused them while he was out of uniform.
In 2009, Antonio Melero alleged in an IA complaint that Cadavid and his girlfriend had shown up at a car dealership demanding that Melero return the girlfriend's money after her car was repossessed. Here's how the IA summed it up: "After Mr. Melero informed [Cadavid's girlfriend] that her money would not be returned due to the late payment, Officer Cadavid became visibly agitated. Mr. Melero states that Officer Cadavid called him a "Fucking Asshole." Melero told Cadavid to leave or he would call the police, at which Cadavid said, "Go ahead, I'm a cop and I'm going to put you through the grinder."
Cadavid denied those claims, his girlfriend didn't cooperate with the police investigator's requests, and the matter was deemed inconclusive.
In 2008, Cadavid was off duty drinking at Flanigan's in Coconut Grove when he got into a heated argument with a bartender, Wilson De La Cruz, over his tab. When another officer showed up after the restaurant manager called police, "Mr. De La Cruz stated that during the argument inside the restaurant, Officer Cadavid spit in his face and said, 'I don't give a fuck that I'm a cop, you pissed me off today and if you go outside I'll beat your ass." De La Cruz failed to provide a sworn statement, though, and the allegation was also deemed inconclusive.
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Ortiz and the Miami PD have continued to support Cadavid in the Demz case. "He did nothing wrong," Ortiz says of the officer's actions. "Absolutely nothing wrong."
Last Saturday, the day after Rodriguez was hit, the young man's mother, Nannette Kaniaris, had a very different perspective.
"My son won't recover from this tragedy," she wrote to New Times. "He was killed by Cadavid. Plain and simple."