The Honorable Katherine Fernandez Rundle State Attorney Miami-Dade County 1350 N.W. 12th Avenue Miami, Florida 33136-2111 Dear Ms. Fernandez Rundle, We are writing to you as parents, business leaders, artists, civic leaders and faith leaders of the Miami-Dade community who formed the Justice for Israel “Reefa” Hernandez Committee to honor the life and grieve the death of a young 18 year-old Miami-based artist named Israel “Reefa” Hernandez. Israel Hernandez's death was a crime against him, his family, Miami Beach and the reputation of its Police Department. However, to date, no one has been charged with any crime. We ask you in your capacity as the State Attorney representing Miami Dade County to charge those responsible for Israel's death, including Officer Jorge Mercado, without further delay. Here are the facts that we know: Israel was allegedly tased to death two months ago by Miami Beach Police Officer Jorge Mercado, who along with other officers, chased Israel several blocks after he spray-painted an "R" on the wall of a North Beach McDonald's that had been vacant for several months. As Israel lay dying, the officers reportedly “high-fived” one another in celebration after apprehending him. Israel was unarmed, weighed a mere 150 lbs., had no prior criminal record, was considered by all who knew him to be gentle and peaceful and posed no danger to anyone. On police recordings from the day of Israel's death, officers conceded during pursuit that the alleged crime for which Israel was being chased is a misdemeanor and not a felony. Also, while Israel had no prior criminal record, Officer Mercado has a history of alleged misconduct, including allegations that he lied about overtime pay, violated the department's drug testing procedures and previously used excessive force. While we understand that an investigation into Israel's death is still pending, we believe that the undisputed facts in the case combined with applicable law support the fact that Officer Jorge Mercado and other Officers involved violated Florida State Law and Miami Beach Police Department Use of Force Policy the day Israel died.
According to Florida's Justifiable Use of Force statutes (776.05), law enforcement officials are justified in using force while making an arrest under three circumstances: 1) When they reasonably believe it "to be necessary to defend himself or herself or another from bodily harm," 2) "When necessarily committed in retaking felons who have escaped; or 3) When necessarily committed in arresting felons fleeing from justice." Miami Beach Use of Force Policy also clearly delineates the factors its Department's officers should consider when using force. Those factors include but are not limited to: 1) Seriousness of the crime committed; 2) Size, age and weight; 3) Apparent physical ability; 4) Weapons possessed by or available; and 5) Known history of violence. In light of the known facts in this case, it is hard to read Florida law and Miami Beach policy without wondering why an arrest has yet to be made. If there is information that counters the known facts in the case, then the three agencies investigating the matter should release it immediately. Instead, the only information that has been released to the media thus far are unsubstantiated rumors by anonymous sources regarding "Excited Delirium" and alleged hard drug use, which seems rather inappropriate given that the family is still grieving their loss while awaiting the autopsy results. Meanwhile, however, the issue of Officer Mercado's alleged misconduct with drug testing within the Department has not been addressed, despite these allegations going to the very heart of his credibility and ability to properly and effectively complete his duties as a police officer. Every day that goes by in which no new information is released, no arrest is made and no one is held accountable for a young man's death, the community loses more faith in the institutions that we entrust to uphold the law. With that in mind, we ask that you arrest and charge those involved in Israel's senseless and unlawful death immediately so that no young person and no Miami Beach resident ever shares his fate or loses their faith in the system meant to protect us. We are open to meeting with you to address our concerns and look forward to hearing from you. Please email us at [email protected]
with any questions or concerns. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, The Justice for Israel “Reefa” Hernandez Committee