Last week, during the height of both national police brutality protests and Art Basel Miami Beach, City of Miami police revealed their own critical involvement in the death of a civilian. And now, Fusion has encountered several possible inconsistencies in the official police account of how an undercover car struck 21-year-old graffiti artist Delbert “Demz” Rodriguez, who later died of his injuries.
Around 2 a.m. the morning of Friday, Dec. 5, officers caught Rodriguez tagging a wall in Wynwood, near the intersection of NW 24th Street and NW Fifth Avenue. The Miami neighborhood is known for both its nonstop parties during the week of Art Basel Miami Beach and for its wall-to-wall street art, now an international draw for tourists and photographers.
Despite the omnipresence of spray-paint in the area, according to official reports, MPD Det. Michael Cadavid decided to pursue Rodriguez in an undercover car, after he was observed writing on a wall. The vehicle struck Rodriguez, leaving him with critical brain injuries. He died five days later in the Jackson Hospital intensive care unit.
Amid both heightened awareness of police-involved injury—and just a year after Miami Beach police tasered graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez to death—Rodriguez’s death is drawing both anger and skepticism.
Here is the official police account of events, according to a statement released by Miami Police Department: officers saw Rodriguez tagging the storefront of a business that was not related to nearby events. When Rodriguez saw police, he ran away around a street corner, at which point Cadavid followed in his undercover police car, a gray Chevrolet sedan.
As he turned the corner, Rodriguez reportedly jumped out from between the two parked cars, and Cadavid accidentally struck him with the Chevrolet. According the official police account, "Due to darkness, black clothing, and his low position near the pavement, the officers were unable to see him as they turned the corner."
A photo circulating on social media yesterday, allegedly of the scene of the incident, refutes several of these details. It initially spread on Instagram from the account of street art supplier @blockbyblock.
In the photo’s comment thread, user @street_gynecologist—whose account has since been deleted—takes credit for the photo, saying he witnessed the incident. (The user behind the @blockbyblock account confirmed to Fusion that, indeed, the photo came to them from @street_gynecologist.)
The photo purports to show Rodriguez lying on the ground, just after impact. Fusion went to the intersection described in the official police encounter, and confirmed it was the same one shown in the Instagram photo.
The vehicle shown in the Instagram photo also matches the official description of Officer Cadavid’s undercover car: a gray Chevrolet sedan.
But if all of that matches up, and this could indeed be a photo of Rodriguez on the ground, a few other important details wouldn’t match the official police report. In the Instagram photo, the man shown on the ground is wearing a white shirt. The intersection shown in the photo is also just steps from where Cadavid reportedly found Rodriguez tagging—a short distance to ostensibly give chase.
Sergeant Cruz of Miami PD said he was unable to comment on the circulating photo.
There are also inconsistencies in police accounts regarding available evidence. Miami Police Sergeant Freddy Cruz told Fusion yesterday there was no video or audio evidence in the case.
But this morning, Fusion went to a wholesale jewelry store called CL Trading of Miami—somewhere outside of which the incident reportedly took place.
The store prominently displays signs everywhere declaring they run surveillance cameras 24 hours a day.
Richard Kim, a cashier at the store, said he was familiar with the incident, and that police had, in fact, come to CL Trading to confiscate and view their surveillance video. Fusion counted at least four surveillance cameras outside the store, with two angled towards the corner and street where the undercover police car hit Rodriguez.
So what about what Cruz initially told Fusion—that there was no video? When asked about the possibility of surveillance footage, Cruz said, “I can’t confirm. I don’t know if they got video or not. They might have gotten surveillance video.”
He also said “there is conflicting information” about what Rodriguez was wearing that night, even though yesterday he repeated the dark clothing detail to the Miami affiliate of Fusion’s parent company, Univision.
“He might be wearing something lighter,” Cruz said today.
As far as initial reports of a chase between Cadavid and Rodriguez, Cruz would also like to clarify that point. “It wasn’t a chase,” he said. “The officer was just looking for him and it was a brief encounter.”
Cruz also told Fusion this an ongoing investigation and they can’t release any report or specific information about the case at this time. “This was an accident and a tragedy,” he said.
Meanwhile, established street artists whose work decorates Wynwood question the utility of police pursuing taggers in a neighborhood celebrated for its graffiti. “I understand that it can't be a free for all, but come on,” said a veteran Miami street artist known as Quake. He’s a longtime member of the local graffiti crew, MSG, whose name appears near one of Demz’s last pieces.
“Why would you be patrolling Wynwood for graffiti during Art Basel?” Quake asked. “That much doesn't make sense.”
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.
Connie Fossi-Garcia is an investigative producer passionate about justice, immigration and stories that spark change.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.