After an “extensive investigation,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced recently that Officer Jorge Mercado was “legally justified in his use of force” in the Taser death of Israel Hernandez-Llach and he will not be charged.
“The sad tragedy of this situation is that no one involved intended or anticipated any serious injury occurring to this young man,” she said. But wait a minute. How many times has her office charged people who never intended or anticipated any serious injury or death? The answer is: A lot.
There are chargeable offenses where recklessness, rather than intent, can be used to pursue prosecution. To charge manslaughter, for example, the state must prove the following two elements: (1) that the victim is dead and (2) that the death was caused by an intentional act or culpable negligence by the defendant.
While he may not have intended to kill him, it seems apparent that Mercado intended to shock Hernandez-Llach. The Medical Examiner’s determination on the cause of death is clear: Israel Hernandez-Llach’s heart stopped because of the Taser. Therefore, Mercado’s actions lead directly to Hernandez-Llach’s death.
How can the use of the Taser be justified? The young man was running away from the officer. He posed no threat to anyone. Is the state attorney telling us that it is reasonable for a police officer, when catching a youth in the act of committing a second degree misdemeanor, to chase him down and Taser him and ultimately cause his death?
Or, was Officer Mercado negligent in his duties if he deviated from standard guidelines and policies?
The state attorney should have sent this case to a grand jury for them to decide. At the very least, this tragic incident indicates that our local police departments need to ramp up their education and training. As long ago as September 2009, Taser International issued a warning and new guidelines to law enforcement agencies recommending shots be aimed below the chest center of mass, as "avoiding chest shots with ECDs (electric charge devices) avoids the controversy about whether ECDs do or do not affect the human heart.”
If Officer Mercado didn’t know this, then he didn’t get the proper training. And, perhaps then the department shares responsibility for Israel Hernandez-Llach’s death.
David T. Alvarez, Coral Gables