A celebrated 18-year-old graffiti artist died Tuesday after Miami police shot a taser into his chest, the Miami Herald reports. Israel Hernandez-Llach was something of a prodigy on the Miami art scene, who had won acclaim for his art and recently launched his own line of specially designed skateboards. By night, he was a graffiti artist known as “Reefa.”
Early Tuesday morning, police found Hernandez-Llach spray-painting an abandoned McDonald’s building and chased him down. The police report claims the teen ran through alleyways and jumped a fence before police finally caught him and shot a taser into his chest. Hernandez-Llach collapsed immediately and was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
According to his best friend’s mother, Hernandez-Llach “had been warned before by police that if they caught him again they would beat the shit out of him.”
The Miami Police Department has undergone federal investigation for its misconduct twice in the past 7 years. The latest Department of Justice investigation found that officers routinely used excessive force when confronting suspects, leading to avoidable deaths.
Street artists generally see tangling with police as just another part of their work, but these encounters often turn disproportionately abusive. Prominent graffiti artist Shepard Fairey has openly discussed how police frequently beat him up, threw him in jail and denied him the insulin pump he needs as a diabetic. After two days in a New York jail without his insulin, he started vomiting uncontrollably and nearly died. Most famously, black graffiti artist Michael Jerome Stewart was beaten and kicked to death by NYPD officers after spray painting a subway wall.
The city of Miami and the state attorney’s office are investigating Hernandez-Llach’s death. His family will also likely launch an independent investigation.
Hernandez-Llach was tased by Miami Beach police, not the city of Miami police department, which was investigated by the DOJ.