Graffiti Artist Demz Dies From Injuries After Police Car Hit Him in Wynwood

Update: A witness reached by New Times disputes the police version of events. Danny Garcia, a friend who was with Demz that night, says there's no way he had time to disappear down a side street before police hit him. New Times also reviewed the officers' IA record, which shows numerous complaints for aggressive behavior. Read the full story here

This past Friday night, thousands of protesters marched through Wynwood and blocked traffic on I-195 to protest police brutality, including the killing by Miami Beach Police officers last year of a young graffiti artist named Israel "Reefa" Hernandez.

Unbeknownst to most protestors, just a few hours earlier and a few blocks away, local cops had chased another young tagger -- 21-year-old Delbert "Demz" Rodriguez -- and hit him with an unmarked cruiser, leaving him with grievous head wounds.

Late last night, Demz died from those injuries.

See also: Graffiti Artist in Critical Condition After Cop Car Hit Him in Wynwood

Friends and family had been standing vigil around his bedside at Jackson Memorial Hospital since Friday, though the prognosis for any recovery was always slim.

Police claim Rodriguez was killed after running from an undercover unit assigned to bust taggers in Wynwood during Art Basel weekend. As a gang unit officer named Michael Cadavid pursued him early on Friday morning, police say, Rodriguez hid between two parked cars and then leaped into the street. Cadavid couldn't avoid hitting him, they say.

"The officer is devastated, and I understand the family is devastated as well," Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa told the Miami Herald. "It's unfortunate that the young man tried to run from police."

But family and friends have strongly disputed that police narrative. Fellow graffiti artists have questioned why an undercover unit was out looking for taggers during Basel week, when hundreds descend on Wynwood to paint new murals on nearly every free surface. The area where officers began chasing Demz, for instance, is already spiderwebbed with graffiti tags.

Here's a video Demz uploaded to the web:

Update: Miami's police union president, Javier Ortiz, sent a statement about Rodriguez's death. The Herald reports that Rodriguez's family has accused Ortiz of behaving callously after the accident by showing up at the hospital and suggesting Demz shouldn't have run from the cops. Ortiz denies he acted inappropriately but also writes, "It is unfortunate that this young man lost his life due to his poor decision to run from the police."

Here's the full statement:

The Miami Fraternal Order of Police has been notified that Mr. Rodriguez has passed away. While this incident is being actively investigated, we look forward in its outcome. Behind every individual who wears a badge, there is a human being. Officer Cadavid has been in close contact with the FOP and continues to pray for Mr. Rodriguez's family.

No matter how this incident transpired, the focus must be that a life was lost and we must keep his family in prayer throughout this difficult time. The Miami Herald posted a story that I went to the hospital to blame Mr. Rodriguez for his actions and then offered his mother dinner. It is unfortunate that the Miami Herald would twist a situation in order to sell newspapers by attempting to sensationalize a very sensitive time.

I did respond to the hospital on behalf of Officer Cadavid. There was a short discussion about the events that took place. However, I made it clear that wasn't why I was there. Officer Cadavid wanted the family to know that he was praying for Delbert. His mother was adamant that the police were to blame. I did my best to comfort her and prayed over her son. I did offer to bring food for her and Delbert's father since I am sure they didn't want to leave their son's bedside. Officer Cadavid was doing his job in enforcing the laws of our country. It is unfortunate that this young man lost his life due to his poor decision to run from the police.

Please continue to pray for the family.

Update 2: Miami PD has released a statement on Demz's death, saying that because of the young man's "dark clothing," Cavadid couldn't see him as he turned a corner. Cavadid's car was moving at less than 15 mph at the time of the accident, the department says. Here's the statement:

On Friday, December 5, 2014, police officers assigned to an overnight security detail around the area of Art Basel observed a subject committing an act of vandalism by spray painting the façade of a business storefront not related to Art Basel. Upon seeing the police lights, the subject took off running and police followed. That subject ran around a street corner. Physical evidence shows, that when the police car turned the corner, the subject was in a low position near the pavement. The subject either fell or was attempting to hide the spray cans under a nearby car. Due to darkness, black clothing, and his low position near the pavement, the officers were unable to see him as they turned the corner. Evidence retrieved from the on board computer (black box) suggest that the vehicle was traveling less than 15 miles per hour at the point of impact, which was to the lower left portion of the front bumper. Sadly, the suspect identified as Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez succumbed to his head injuries and died last night.

This was a tragic car accident which has left both families devastated. The Miami Police Department offers our condolences and prayers.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink