As 200 protesters chanted and waved signs, Israel Hernandez's sister voiced the concern that had drawn so many to South Beach on a Sunday afternoon. "Today, I [still] do not know why my brother died," Ofir Hernandez shouted to the crowd. "They have not given us answers."
In fact, Miami Beach authorities aren't just sitting on the autopsy report of the 18-year-old who died August 6 when police Tasered him after catching him tagging an abandoned McDonald's. Some cops are using the information vacuum to impugn Israel's public image. In a September 29 article, the Miami Herald cited "multiple law enforcement sources" as suggesting that Hernandez was on cocaine at the time of his death. The evidence: that the teenager supposedly had a body temperature "well over 102 degrees over an hour after [he was] pronounced dead."
"An overheated body is common among people who have been ruled as having died of excited delirium," the article continued, defining excited delirium as "a rare brain malfunction — often fueled by cocaine or mental illness."
The implication: that Hernandez didn't die from an ill-advised Tasering by Miami Beach cops but from a freak accident caused by his own cocaine use. "How can they try to say that he did cocaine?" Ofir asks. "We don't even have the autopsy report yet, so why are they saying that? Why are they trying to [sully] his name?"
MBPD spokesman Robert Hernandez declined to comment, saying only that he had no idea who spoke to the Herald about the case. He added that cops were waiting for the State Attorney's Office to authorize the release of autopsy results.
Ofir Hernandez, meanwhile, says her brother hardly drank alcohol, let alone did cocaine. Aside from occasionally smoking marijuana — which is not linked to heart problems or excited delirium — he was healthy. "I'm 100 percent sure that he did not use any chemical drugs," she says.
In fact, there are many reasons Hernandez might have had a body temperature of 102 degrees well after his death, says Dr. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist at the University of Indiana and an expert on Tasering deaths. "Maybe the youngster was sick and had the flu," Zipes says. More likely, it was a result of Hernandez trying to elude police — sprinting down alleys, jumping over fences, and landing on cars — for more than seven minutes before being Tasered in the chest.
Another factor is Miami's heat. "Body temperature generally falls about 1.5 degrees per hour after death," Zipes says. "But that depends on the environment the body is in... This was Miami in the middle of the summer."
By suggesting Israel was on drugs, cops are trying to shift the blame from themselves to the slain teenager, his sister says. The Hernandez family has filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami Beach over his death, accusing cops of using excessive force and failing to give Israel — known as Reefa among his fellow artists — medical attention.
"We want to know what happened," she says, close to tears. "Why is it taking so long?"