The parents of the Israeli-American teenager charged with making thousands of threatening calls to schools, Jewish institutions, hospitals, airlines and other targets in numerous countries for two years before his arrest in March have hired prominent lawyer Yoram Sheftel to defend him.
The parents of the teenager, whose name is barred from publication in Israel by court order, claim that the state is dragging its feet in providing a psychiatric evaluation of their son, who they say is autistic and has a brain tumor, is not fit to stand trial, and should not be held in jail. They said they live in constant fear that he will take his own life.
In April, Israel filed a massive list of criminal charges against the suspect, including accusations that he made thousands of bomb threat calls and other violent threats to institutions all over the world. The Israeli charges came days after charges were filed against the 18-year-old in the US courts.
His parents, who have repeatedly expressed sorrow over their son’s actions while also stressing that he was not aware of the consequences of what he was doing, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that he is being kept in a special, closed area of Ramle’s Nitzan jail for 23 hours a day, and is not receiving the medical treatment he needs. They said he is being given medication he never had before. He was previously held in the psychiatric wing of the jail.
His mother is allowed to see him once a week for half an hour. His father, who was arrested and released without charge, has not been allowed to see him.
His parents showed The Times of Israel psychiatric and neurological experts’ evaluations of their son, which they have submitted to the courts and which support their statements about his medical and psychological condition. These evaluations recommend that he be transferred to an institution that can better ensure his physical well-being and where he can be given the appropriate medical and psychological supervision and treatment. “Prison is not appropriate, and is even dangerous, since [the suspect] is likely to carry out a suicidal act,” one of the evaluations states.
The district psychiatrist was supposed to submit its report on May 6, they said, but was granted a postponement, and then a subsequent postponement. On July 3, a hearing is scheduled on whether to keep the suspect in jail until the end of proceedings against him, and on July 18 a hearing is scheduled to discuss the case itself.
The parents cited an incident several weeks ago when their son, who was being taken back to jail after a psychological evaluation in Ashkelon and was in a traumatized state, attempted to break out of the police van that was transporting him, smashing a door. They said a prisons service guard smashed him in the face with a rifle butt, drawing blood. They also said he was lifted up by his handcuffs, causing him considerable pain.
A spokesman for the Prisons Service said he was aware of the incident, and that the suspect “went wild” in the van, and that officers had no choice but to use force to restrain him. The spokesman said he had never heard of a previous incident in which the door of these reinforced vans had been broken in such a way by a detainee. If the family believed unreasonable force was used to subdue him, said the spokesman, they had the right to file a complaint about the incident.
The spokesman added that the family “may well be right” to argue that their son should be held in a more appropriate facility. “But that is a matter for the courts,” said the spokesman.
He said the suspect was indeed kept in a “special facility” in the jail — stressing, however, that this was not solitary confinement — “to ensure that he cannot harm himself or others.”
The suspect’s parents said they decided to hire Sheftel after explaining the case to him and recognizing that Sheftel “understood right away” what was at stake and that their son is “1 million percent not fit to stand trial… This is unmistakable within a minute when you see him.” Asked how they would pay their legal fees, they said they would take loans.
Sheftel is currently defending IDF soldier Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter in the killing of an injured and disarmed Palestinian assailant in March 2016. Azaria is appealing his conviction and 18-month jail term.
Sheftel defended John Demjanjuk against charges that he was the notorious Treblinka death camp guard Ivan the Terrible. Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988, but the verdict was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court five years later.