MIAMI BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Miami Beach, Florida, police are investigating the death of an 18-year-old graffiti artist who died after being shot with a Taser during a pre-dawn chase with officers who said they caught him spray-painting a building.
Israel Hernandez-Llach, known by his so-called tag name as “Reefa,” won notice for his graffiti work as well as for sculpture and painting.
“He did it a lot,” said Hernandez-Llach’s friend Rafael Lynch, referring to his graffiti. “He wasn’t a bad person at all; the cops didn’t like him or what he looked like,” he added, saying his friend was also an avid skateboarder.
The two hung out at a Miami Beach skateboard shop where Lynch works.
“To me, right now, he’s still here. I hung out with him so much I couldn’t imagine him dead,” Lynch said.
Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez said Hernandez-Llach fled after being seen “vandalizing private property” shortly before dawn on Tuesday in Miami Beach.
He was chased by police and ignored commands to stop running, at which point an officer used his Taser electroshock gun, Martinez said in a statement.
Once in custody, the Colombian-born artist “displayed signs of medical duress” and was pronounced dead soon after.
“At this time, the cause of death has not been determined by the medical examiner’s office. Autopsy and toxicology results are still pending as well,” Martinez said, while offering condolences to the artist’s family.
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Kevin Gray, Andrew Hay and Steve Orlosky