The Miami, Florida police officer who fired a Taser gun at 18-year-old graffiti artist Israel Hernandez-Llach Tuesday morning moments before the teenager was pronounced dead has been placed on paid leave.
According to the Miami Herald, anonymous law enforcement sources say Officer Jorge Mercado was placed on administrative leave with pay on Thursday, two days after he discharged his Taser at Hernandez-Llach following a brief foot pursuit.
Hernandez-Llach, a respected skateboarder and street artist who moved to the United States from Colombia as a child, was caught spray-painting his graffiti tag on a vacant McDonald’s restaurant early Tuesday. He was pursued by around a half-dozen officers for roughly 10 minutes before Mercado apprehended him after he fired a Taser blast at the teen’s chest. Officers on the scene then called for emergency assistance, but the teen passed away moments later.
Both an autopsy report and toxicology examination are being conducted on Hernandez-Llach, and the victim’s family are asking for an independent investigation in addition to the internal probe being waged by law enforcement.
According to friends of the artist who were on the scene while Hernandez-Llach died, Miami Beach police high-fived each other while awaiting medical assistance.
“He said ‘you should have seen how funny it was when his butt clenched when he got Tased’ he said, and they were all clapping and doing high-fives all over his body. It was almost like they were proud of what they did,” friend Thiago Souza told the Herald of how cops acted on the scene.
"There is no justification for this kind of action for a second-degree misdemeanor," Jason W. Kreiss, a lawyer representing Hernandez-Llach's family, added to Reuters.
Additional reporting by the Herald has uncovered that Officer Mercado has had six complaints filed against him since he joined the force 13 years ago. According to the paper, Mercado has been alleged of using excessive force, battery and violating the department’s code for courtesy and respect. All complaints but one were either unsubstantiated or exonerated.
The Miami Herald reports it is standard procedure to relieve an officer involved in a deadly force incident from duty for at least 72 hours "without loss of pay or benefits pending the results of the investigation."
Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez has not commented on the eyewitness accounts, but admits the event remains under investigation.