Friends and family of acclaimed artist and graffitist Israel Hernandez-Llach are outraged after the 18-year-old died in police custody in Miami Beach after being Tasered Tuesday.
Hernandez, a native of Colombia, was spray-painting graffiti on a defunct McDonald’s in Miami Beach, setting off a police chase Tuesday afternoon in which officers shot him in the chest with a Taser, the Miami Herald reported. The teen later died at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez extended his condolences to Hernandez's family but also defended the use of the Taser, asserting that the youth did not heed officers’ commands to stop after he ran into them.
“The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident,’’ Martinez told the paper.
The Hernandez family has hired an attorney and his death is under investigation, CBS Miami reported. His official cause of death has yet to be determined.
One of the victim’s friends said Miami Beach officers high-fived each other after Tasering the graffiti artist.
“He was on the ground and the cops were making jokes,” 19-year-old Thiago Souza told the Herald.
Another friend, Felix Hernandez, said five cops chased Israel Hernandez and shoved him against a wall. The next thing he knew, his friend was on the ground surrounded by officers.
“He is a very skinny guy, very small,” said Felix Hernandez, no relation.
Hernandez’s best friend, Rafael Lynch, was in disbelief over the graffiti artist’s death. He said his friend was an avid skateboarder in addition to his passion for art. Lynch used to hang out with Hernandez at skateboarding shops.
"I just can’t believe it," Lynch told the Miami New Times. “"I still have his hat and his board. They still smell like him. It's crazy."
"This dude wasn't a regular dude," he added. "He wasn't into partying... I've seen him drink a beer in the past but nothing to get f----- up... 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."
Tracy West, a parent who knew Hernandez well, said there was no way he could have been a threat to police.
“He had been warned before by police that if they caught him again they would beat the s--- out of him,’’ she told the Herald. “He could not have done anything. All he thought about was art.’’
At Hernandez’s family’s home, family members paid tribute to the teen by showing off his artwork on a table in their apartment.
“He wanted to change the world somehow through art,” his 21-year-old sister, Offir Hernandez, told the Herald. “We want answers. We only want to know what happened.”
Todd McPharlin, the Hernandez family attorney, told the Herald they want an independent investigation and not just an internal police department probe.
Howard Koplowitz reports on crime and breaking news events for International Business Times. Howard formerly worked on IBT's continuous news desk, where he covered trending...