By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Miami Beach officials have settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Israel Hernandez-Llach, the 18-year-old street artist who died on Aug. 6, 2013 after he was shot in the chest with a Taser fired by a city cop who was chasing him for scrawling graffiti on a wall.
The teen’s death generated national media coverage regarding the use of Tasers by police in handling suspects and intense scrutiny of the Miami Beach Police Department, which two years earlier had faced widespread criticism over the shooting death of a suspect and the wounding of four bystanders on Memorial Day Weekend in 2011.
Within weeks of Hernandez-Llach’s death, his parents and sister sued the city, alleging Miami Beach cops used “wrongful, unnecessary and unreasonable force” to detain the young man and then failed to provide him with proper medical care when he showed signs of distress.
According to court affidavits releasing the city and the police officers involved in the incident from any claims, Miami Beach officials expressly deny liability, but agreed to pay $100,000 to Hernandez-Llach’s father, Israel Hernandez Bandera, his mother Jacqueline Luz Llach and his sister Offir Hernandez Llach. Florida Bulldog obtained the affidavits, signed by the three surviving relatives on Aug. 3, last week through a public records request.
“The City of Miami Beach made the decision to resolve this lawsuit,” said deputy city attorney Aleksandr Boksner. “We believed this to be the best course of action in this matter.” Under Florida’s sovereign immunity law, governmental agencies are only required to pay up to $200,000 to the families of individuals injured or killed by municipal negligence.
Todd Falzone, a Fort Lauderdale attorney representing Hernandez-Llach’s family, did not return three phone messages seeking comment. Hernandez Bandera, who divorced Llach in 2009, said that he, his ex-wife and their daughter decided to settle after determining it would have cost them more money to take the case to trial than any amount they would be entitled to had they prevailed. He also said the family did not want to go through the pain of putting the officers on the stand so they could continue to give misleading statements about their role in killing Hernandez-Llach.
“We made the decision to turn the page,” Hernandez Bandera said. “But we have not given up our fight to expose the truth about what happened to my son.”
The day he died, more than half a dozen Beach cops began pursuing Hernandez-Llach after spotting him writing his street name, “Reefa,” on the wall of a shuttered McDonald’s restaurant on the corner of 71st Street and Collins Avenue. When they caught up to the 18-year-old, officer Jorge Mercado Tasered Hernandez-Llach, shocking him in the chest, according to the complaint.
‘High-fiving’ Miami Beach cops
“While he was lying on the ground, injured and in need of emergency medical treatment, the officers were seen celebrating, including ‘high-fiving’ one another,” the complaint states. Mercado denied the accusation in a sworn statement he gave as part of internal affairs and criminal probe of Hernandez-Llach’s death.
To draw attention to police brutality and misconduct, his family organized numerous vigils and protests, and also submitted a report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. “We won’t stop until there is an independent investigation into the circumstances of Israel’s death,” Hernandez Bandera said. “It is something we have been pushing for since he was killed.”
In 2014, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office released its findings that Hernandez-Llach died from “sudden cardiac arrest” caused by the Taser’s electric discharge. But the medical examiner stopped short of ruling his death a homicide, determining it was accidental.
In July of the following year, Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the officers who detained Hernandez-Llach. “Our extensive investigation determined that the sad tragedy of this situation is that no one involved intended or anticipated any serious injury occurring to this young man,” she said at the time. “In my meeting with the family, I expressed my heartfelt sorrow for the unimaginable loss of their son.”
Since then, the legal team representing Hernandez-Llach’s family has been collecting evidence and taking officers’ depositions to build a strong case against the city, including street surveillance video footage that shows Mercado and another officer chasing the street artist with their guns drawn, according to a Dec. 16, 2016 Miami New Times story. Hernandez Bandera said there was no reason justifying police pulling out their firearms on a kid tagging a building.
Now that the lawsuit is settled, Hernandez Bandera said the family will be releasing video, along with depositions by Mercado and other officers, that contradict sworn statements they provided to homicide investigators, in addition to other proof that he says shows a cover-up.
“Little by little, we will be revealing the truth,” he said. “We will continue fighting for Israel so that another family doesn’t have to go through what we have been through.”