Israel "Reefa" Hernandez Died by Taser

Seven months after Israel "Reefa" Hernandez was killed by Miami Beach cops, authorities finally announced what his family knew all along: The teen died from being hit with a Taser. The findings, which were disclosed last week by the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office, contradict both news reports and claims by Taser that its device isn't lethal.

"Israel Hernandez Jr. was intentionally Tasered to death," said Jorge Estomba, speaking on behalf of the Hernandez family. "Rumors about an accident or drugs are false."

In September, seven weeks after New Times broke the story of Hernandez's death, the Miami Herald published an article suggesting the teen had died of "excited delirium," a controversial diagnosis often linked to mental disease or hard drug use. The newspaper also quoted Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera as saying, "The Taser doesn't kill these people... It's the drugs they take."

But last week's announcement revealed Reefa didn't die from drugs or excited delirium. Rather, he died from heart failure caused by "energy device discharge." The finding was the first of its kind in Florida. It was also vindication for the Hernandez family, which has long insisted Reefa's demise was no fault of his own. But the Hernandez family is still outraged over the report. That's because Associate Medical Examiner Mark Shuman also determined the death was "accidental."

"Israel Hernandez Jr. did not fall on a Taser," Estomba said during a Monday news conference. "The family is very surprised and in shock... to hear that this could be labeled an 'accident.' If that's the case, that's a joke."

Hernandez was chased and Tasered in the early hours of August 6, 2013, after cops caught him tagging an abandoned McDonald's. A Miami Beach Police investigation is still ongoing. "Israel Hernandez Jr. committed a misdemeanor," Estomba said. "He did not have any weapons on him... 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."

The determination that a Taser caused the death of an otherwise healthy teen has huge implications in Florida, where three other young men recently died after being shot with the device. On February 5, 21-year-old barber Willie Sams died after Miami-Dade Police used a Taser on him during an altercation. On February 27, two other men — Maykel Antonio Barrera, age 37, and Treon Johnson, age 27 — died after being Tasered by Miami-Dade and Hialeah cops, respectively.

A spokesman for Taser International released a statement that the company would not comment on Reefa's death "without having been provided any factual documentation by the medical examiner."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.