The police officer who shot Ethiopian Solomon Tekah to death in Haifa in June will be charged with negligent homicide subject to a trial, the police officer’s attorney announced on Tuesday.
“Like many other Israelis, I feel that if it wouldn’t have been for the violent public protests which swept the country, they wouldn’t even have decided to prosecute my client,” the police officer’s attorney said.
“My client is adamant that he acted out of self-defense and without any intention of causing the tragic result,” the attorney continued. “A combination of unusual and unexpected circumstances ended tragically in a way that no reasonable person could have foreseen. We believe that there is no reason to prosecute my client and we’ll prove this claim to the relevant authorities.”
The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department DIP) officially notified the Tekah family and its attorney of its decision in a meeting on Tuesday.
Negligent homicide carries a maximum punishment of three years in jail.
On June 30, 2019, an off-duty police officer was walking with his wife and young children in Haifa when he spotted three Ethiopian men assaulting a 13-year-old boy in an attempt to steal his phone. The officer tried to break up the fight but the young men, who appeared to be drunk, began cursing at him, threatening him and throwing rocks at him, wounding him on his head, chest and shoulders.
The officer, fearing that his and his family members’ lives were in danger, shot a warning shot at the ground but the bullet ricocheted off the ground, striking Tekah and killing him. A police ballistics examination confirmed the officer’s version that the bullet which struck Tekah was fired at the ground. The police officer said that he didn’t shoot a warning shot in the air rather than the ground due to the fact that it was a populated area and he feared harming passersby.
The Ethiopian community, aided by left-wing activists, began a series of violent protests across Israel in the wake of Tekah’s death with little regard to the facts of the case. Pictures of the police officer and his small children, ages 7 months, 5, and 7, were posted on social media with calls to murder them. The officer and his family were forced to be moved from their home for their safety to an undisclosed location and were placed under police protection for the highest threat level which exists in Israel.
The Ministry of Justice stated: “The decision was made following a thorough examination of the circumstances of the incident, including the fact that the police officer’s firing [of his gun] was not in accordance with police directives, which are well known to him, and he didn’t implement more proportionate alternatives available to him. The decision took into account the fact that the policeman was attacked with stones by the deceased and other men and was even wounded in the incident before using his gun. But in the totality of circumstances, it was found that there were grounds to prosecute him.”
The indictment stated that the police officer: should have settled with firing a warning shot in the air; that police guidelines don’t allow firing at the ground under the particular circumstances; that he fired at asphalt, a hard and flat surface which shouldn’t be fired at due to risk of ricochets; and that he didn’t fire at the nearby sandy ground which would have decreased the chance of ricochets.
Activists protested outside the Justice Ministry on Tuesday, according to a Ynet report. “[Amir] Ohana is a disgraceful Justice Minister,” the activists shouted. “We’ll continue to fight until justice prevails. The blood of Solomon Tekah isn’t hefker.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)