Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez defended his department’s actions amid growing outrage over the death of an immigrant artist who was Tasered by one of his officers.
“They had an encounter,” Martinez said to WSVN-TV on Friday regarding the death of Israel Hernández-Llach Tuesday morning. “They were gonna place someone under arrest for a crime. Even though it was only graffiti, it’s still a crime. The subject ran from them. Now he’s eluding police. It’s resisting arrest, if you will.”
Hernández-Llach, who had become known in local art and skating circles under the alias “ReeFa,” was tagging a vacant restaurant building on Tuesday morning before being spotted by officers and running away. Martinez said to WSVN that Hernández-Llach briefly eluded them before Officer Jorge Mercado caught up to him, at which point Hernández-Llach began running toward him.
“The officer has to make a choice,” Martinez said to WSVN. “And the choice is either to utilize a Taser or to go hands-on with the individual and get physical, and that normally involves grabbing, tackling, knocking him to the ground, and then there’s a fight usually associated with that.”
Shortly thereafter, Mercado used his Taser on Hernández-Llach, who fell to the ground. While Martinez told WSVN his officers immediately called for medical attention, two friends of Hernández-Llach who were with him that morning said police acted callously.
“I seen him get smacked up against this wall right here,” Felix Fernandez told WSVN. “When I came back, he was just laying right here, and they were all laughing about it after they already handcuffed him.”
The state Department of Law Enforcement has agreed to conduct an independent investigation of the incident. Mercado was placed on paid leave pending an investigation. Miami New Times reported on Friday that Mercado’s record includes charges of battery and excessive force levied against him.
Watch WSVN’s report on Hernández-Llach’s death, aired Friday, below.