A half-naked knife-wielding man who chased a Miami police officer in Little Havana over the weekend died a day after being shot by Taser stun guns.
State agents are now investigating the death of 52-year-old Maximo Rabasa, who had a history of psychiatric problems.
The confrontation unfolded Saturday night when a Miami police officer saw Rabasa — clad only in boxer shorts — wielding a knife on the street near Southwest 22nd Avenue and First Street. According to Miami police, the man ran toward the officer, who then locked himself in his patrol car and called for backup.
When other officers arrived, Rabasa refused to drop his weapon and lunged at one cop, law enforcement sources said. Instead of firing their guns, officers used their Taser stun guns “multiple times” in a scuffle to try to restrain the man.
The man finally collapsed and Miami Fire-Rescue was called to transport the man to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Rabasa died Sunday at the hospital after going into cardiac arrest.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will now review Rabasa’s death, which is standard for all “in-custody” deaths. Ultimately, Miami-Dade prosecutors will decide whether the officers broke any laws in using force to subdue Rabasa.
“The city of Miami police department wishes to express condolences to the Rabasa family,” said Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss, adding that FDLE “is conducting a very extensive and thorough investigation into this matter.”
The president of Miami’s police union praised officers, who did not fire their guns even though he said they would have been justified in using deadly force. “These officers used incredible restraint when dealing with a suspect armed with a knife who charged at them,” said Javier Ortiz, of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police.
Deaths involving Taser stun guns have long been controversial across the nation, and Rabasa’s death comes as tensions between police and citizens have flared in recent months over questions of excessive use of force.
The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office must now rule on a cause of death for Rabasa.
In Miami-Dade, the office has most often ruled people shot by Tasers have died from “excited delirium,” a brain disorder — exacerbated by drugs or mental illness — that makes people grow extremely agitated and raises body temperatures to feverish levels.
But critics are skeptical, saying that excited delirium is an unproven ailment, a way to explain away heavy-handed police tactics.
The Medical Examiner’s Office, however, broke ground last year in its findings on the cause of death in the high-profile case of graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez-Llach, who was Tasered by a Miami Beach police officer after a long foot chase in 2013.
Instead, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, his death was ruled to be an accident — heart failure due an “electric device discharge.” The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is still conducting its investigation into Hernandez-Llach’s death.
Investigators will certainly consider Rabasa’s mental-health history, and how that might have contributed to his criminal history.
State records show Rabasa had been arrested 22 times since 1997, most of them on small-time charges such as cocaine possession, trespassing, loitering, shoplifting and drinking alcohol in public. He was never convicted of any offenses serious enough to lead to prison time.
The Miami Police Department, which along with other agencies trains officers to deal with “crisis intervention,” has been lauded for how it deals with mentally ill people on the streets.
Last year, according to records compiled by the courts, Miami police responded to 5,049 calls of mentally ill people in crisis.
Of those calls, police officers used the Taser 14 times, while making only 13 arrests. In 106 cases, the person having a crisis episode volunteered to be hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation, while 296 others were hospitalized “involuntarily” for treatment.
Under Florida’s Baker Act, someone can be committed for a psychiatric evaluation if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others.