When a Miami officer deployed a Taser at a homeless man who had been wandering in and out of traffic on a busy roadway, police say he was actually trying to save the man’s life.
But an hour later, Luis Alberto Luna, 38, was dead.
Deputy Police Chief Ronald Papier said the death happened early this week despite the officer employing a supposedly non-lethal weapon to try to stop Luna from injuring or killing himself.
“Tragically,” said Papier, “he died.”
The incident — captured on police body-cam video — unfolded early Sunday morning as Luna was sitting on the sidewalk along Northeast 79th Street surrounded by officers and rescue workers. After Luna unfurled a bandana with a pocket knife inside and began making stabbing motions at himself, one officer fired the electronic stun gun device.
On Tuesday, police released video footage from body cameras worn by three officers. In it, they convince Luna to get off the roadway. He walks to a bus shelter on the sidewalk. There, a clearly agitated Luna took out a pocket knife and waved it around, slamming it into the back of the glass shelter.
He then sat on the bus bench and after disobeying commands to put the knife down, an officer appeared to stun him with a Taser. Afterward, Luna swung his arms as if he was trying to stab himself in the stomach. It wasn’t clear if the knife actually made contact. After being struck again by a Taser, Luna became unresponsive and fire rescue workers try to resuscitate him.
Police said he was pronounced dead an hour later at the hospital.
The deputy chief said it was about 4:45 a.m. Sunday when officers saw Luna walking in and out of traffic on 79th Street just west of Biscayne Boulevard. The officers successfully talked him off the road and got him to sit down on the sidewalk. By then, Miami Fire Rescue had arrived.
All seven officers involved in the incident were administratively reassigned until Wednesday as the city and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate the actions of police leading up to Luna’s death.
Proving that a Taser caused someone’s death has been particularly difficult across the country, even as the electronic stun devices have become a popular alternative for deadly force. Medical examiners typically chalk deaths after someone is struck by a Taser to something called “excited delirium,” which is when the human body overheats because of a mix of drugs.
That was the case in March when Coral Gables police fired a Taser at an exterminator who was removing his girlfriend’s clothing in the middle of a street in an attempt to “cleanse her body of evil spirits.” The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner determined that Aviel Gutierrez died of a “brain disorder aggravated by a potent mix of drugs.”
The only time locally that the medical examiner has ruled a Taser caused death was in 2013 when Miami Beach police chased an 18-year-old graffiti artist named Israel “Reefa” Hernandez-Lach after he was discovered tagging an abandoned McDonald’s in North Beach. The officers were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The city settled the case with the teen’s family for $100,000.