Cop who killed Ethiopian-Israeli teen faces softened indictment
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Cop who killed Ethiopian-Israeli teen faces softened indictment

Police investigation backs suspect’s claim that his life was endangered; family seethes at downgraded charge

An Israeli woman holds a poster of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin who was killed by an off-duty police officer, as members of the Israeli Ethiopian community block the main entrance to Jerusalem on July 2, 2019 to protest his killing. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
An Israeli woman holds a poster of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin who was killed by an off-duty police officer, as members of the Israeli Ethiopian community block the main entrance to Jerusalem on July 2, 2019 to protest his killing. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

A police officer will face downgraded negligent homicide charges in the shooting death of an Ethiopian-Israeli teen in June, prosecutors informed the victim’s family on Tuesday.

The killing of Solomon Tekah, 19, in the Haifa neighborhood of Kiryat Haim on June 30 sparked nationwide protests, some of which turned violent.

The incident immediately drew renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Days after the shooting, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires, and denounced what they said is systemic discrimination against the community.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department on Tuesday announced that the officer, who was off-duty at the time of the shooting and has not been named publicly, will be charged.

Prosecutors will indict him with the relatively lenient offense of negligent homicide, which carries a maximum punishment of three years in jail.

Zion Amir, an attorney who represents the Tekah family, slammed the decision on Tuesday.

“He’s a murderer and they [the Tekah family] feel he [Solomon] was murdered all over again,” said Amir.

Ethiopians and supporters demonstrate against police violence and discrimination following the death of 19-year-old Ethiopian, Solomon Tekah who was shot and killed few days ago in Kiryat Haim by an off-duty police officer, in Jerusalem, July 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The officer is suspected of firing his weapon directly between Tekah’s feet. The bullet then ricocheted and killed the teenager.

The police investigation largely shored up the suspect’s account, namely that he, while on an outing with his family, had attempted to break up a street fight and opened fire over fears for his life.

According to the investigation, the off-duty officer intervened after his wife noticed that some teenagers had taken money from another boy. He then alerted the police hotline of the alleged theft, but the dispatched police car was delayed.

In the interim, the officer found himself and his family members pelted with stones, prompting him to draw his weapon. The investigation findings suggested his life had been in danger, as the suspect had claimed, and that he shot in the direction of the teenagers merely to scare them off, rather than injure them.

Family members and supporters attend a ceremony in memory of 19-year-old Ethiopian, Solomon Tekah who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer on June 30, 2019, in Kiryat Haim, July 10, 2019. (Flash90)

Police stressed the officer was wrong to aim at the asphalt near the group due to the high likelihood the bullet, or its fragments, would harm them.

Tekah’s family will likely petition the High Court of Justice to appeal the decision, according to Channel 13, and ask that the charges be upgraded to manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 20 years behind bars.

A Hebrew-media report on Monday quoted police sources estimating that the protests could be re-launched as a result of the failure to charge the officer with a more severe crime.

“We have intelligence that says if the Tekah family is unsatisfied with the PIID’s decision tomorrow, road-blocking and violent demonstrations will be held again,” senior sources in police’s Northern District reportedly said.

A police car burns as members of the Ethiopian community in Israel clash with the police during in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya on July 2, 2019, during a protest against the killing of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin, who was killed by an off-duty police officer.(Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Avi Yalou, one of the leaders of the earlier Ethiopian protest, slammed the expected ruling and said his community “will keep struggling until there is justice.”

“We are seeing once again that the law enforcement system isn’t really doing justice,” he said. “Carelessly downgrading the charge to negligent homicide is an attempt to cover for this policeman. The community has been protesting for months against the injustice by the Israel Police. Now, the prosecution and [State Attorney] Shai Nitzan have also decided to close ranks and not deliver justice.”

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