As friends and family mourn the death of Israel Hernandez-Llach, the Florida teenager and graffiti artist who died after police shocked him with a Taser, the incident has become mired in additional controversy following allegations from witnesses about the seemingly inappropriate conduct of the police officers on the scene.
Thiago Souza, who was with Hernandez-Llach before he was tasered, told the Miami Herald that the police officers began giving each other high fives and congratulations after they successfully used a Taser.
“He was on the ground and the cops were making jokes,” Souza told the Miami Herald.
Souza told ABC News that Hernandez-Llach’s family had asked him not to speak to the media, so he was unable to expand upon what he told the Herald, but confirmed the account he gave to the Herald.
The law firm representing the family, Kelly Uustal, has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an investigation into the incident.
Sgt. Bobby Hernandez of the Miami Beach Police Department told ABC News that officers in the department often shake hands after catching a suspect, which he said might have been misconstrued as rejoicing.
“Typically after we capture someone that has committed a crime, it is typical for us to check on each other and that could be construed as a celebration,” he said.
Hernandez-Llach, 18, died Aug. 6. Police contend they him spray-painting a building, and he began to run from the police, ignoring their calls to stop, which prompted them to use a Taser to lure him into compliance. After he was taken into custody he began showing signs of medical distress. The Fire Department rushed him to the Mount Sinai hospital, and he died shortly afterwards.
Raphael Lynch, another friend of Hernandez-Llach, told ABC News, “I don’t see how he is dead, because I feel like he is part of me.” In addition to being a graffiti artist, said Lynch, Hernandez-Llach was also an incredibly talented skater.
“It was our dream to sell skateboards and have a skate team,” said Lynch. “He was one of the most talented skaters I knew.”
An online fundraiser has been established for Hernandez-Llach’s family to help defray the funeral costs. As of Friday afternoon, it had raised $3, 435. ABC affilliate WPLG reported that a vigil for Hernandez was also held on Thursday night.
The officer involved in the incident, Jorge Mercado, has been placed on paid leave. According to Hernandez, that is “standard operating procedure” after an officer has witnessed a death, and the leave generally lasts no longer than 72 hours. He did not provide further details.