Case shut against police in 2020 West Bank chase that left settler teen dead

Attorney general says no evidence officers tried to hit car of Ahuvia Sandak, shutting book on highly charged case; coalition MK claims ‘coverup’

A demonstrator poses under an overturned car during a protest rally on behalf of Ahuvia Sandak at the Chords Bridge in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A demonstrator poses under an overturned car during a protest rally on behalf of Ahuvia Sandak at the Chords Bridge in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that he was closing a probe of police officers over a car chase in which a settler teen died, finding no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Ahuvia Sandak, 16, was killed in a crash while fleeing from police in December 2020, allegedly after throwing rocks at Palestinians. Repeated recent protests over Sandak’s death have escalated into violence and arrests.

A statement from Mandelblit’s office said the evidence in the case showed police were justified in chasing after the car carrying Sandak, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, and four other young settlers, and that there were no grounds for claiming officers intentionally rammed the vehicle.

The statement added that it could not be clearly determined which car swerved, leading to the crash in which the car carrying Sandak flipped over.

“Along with this, the attorney general asked the police commissioner to conduct an orderly review in the Israel Police, which will examine the need for improving or clarifying the relevant operational guidelines in light of the danger inherent in vehicular chases,” the statement said.

Lawyers for Sandak’s family and the officers have been informed of Mandelblit’s decision.

Mandelblit’s office released video from the day of the crash in which the car can be seen driving in the wrong lane as it sought to evade the pursuing patrol cars.

“The investigatory material shows that by at least the advanced stages of the chase, they were aware that the vehicles chasing after them were police cars and that they were in the middle of an attempted escape,” the statement said.

Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed when his car flipped over while being chased by police in the West Bank on December 21, 2020. (Courtesy)

The statement also said that officers did not initially try to overtake the vehicle due to the winding road and limited vision, instead waiting for the road to straighten out before trying to get past the car to stop it.

“Only then did the collision occur between the front right corner of the police vehicle and the back left corner of the fleeing vehicle. Following the collision, the fleeing vehicle veered to the left shoulder and flipped over into a ditch on the side of the road. As a result of this, Sandak, who was likely not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle,” the statement said.

Additionally, Mandelblit’s office said police did not find Sandak’s body under the vehicle until an hour after the crash, as police gathered evidence from the scene.

“The investigation showed that the rest of the passengers of the fleeing vehicle did not tell anyone at the scene that there was a missing citizen,” the statement said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the press conference announcing his decision to make then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand trial, on November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Sandak’s family denounced Mandelblit’s decision, claiming without evidence that there was a coverup.

“The officers of the Judea and Samaria Unit killed our son,” the family said, using the biblical name of the West Bank.

A number of lawmakers also issued condemnations.

“This is a black day for democracy. The attorney general is giving… a license to officers to kill hilltop youths,” tweeted far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, referring to young extremist settlers.

Opposition MK Moshe Arbel of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party claimed the case was closed due to the “weakness” of the Justice Department’s Police Internal Investigations Department, which along with the State Attorney’s Office advised Mandelblit against charging the officers.

“Obstruction of justice took place and was made possible from the start,” Arbel claimed in a statement.

Police officers clash with demonstrators during a protest over the death of Ahuvia Sandak last year, in Jerusalem, on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Mossi Raz of the coalition’s left-wing Meretz party similarly accused Mandelblit of a “coverup,” without offering proof.

“A scandalous decision. A boy was killed by being struck in his vehicle by a police car and no one is being held to account,” Raz wrote on Twitter.

In his announcement, Mandelblit did not indicate if he would press charges against any of the young settlers who were with Sandak in the vehicle, as a television report earlier this week suggested.

The Knesset in November voted to investigate the death.

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