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Cop who killed Ethiopian-Israeli teen ruled unfit for public service

Unnamed officer, who is still on trial, was set to be transferred to fire department, but civil service commissioner vetoes move

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

The civil service Commissioner ruled Wednesday that an officer charged with causing the shooting death of a teenager of Ethiopian descent in 2019 cannot serve as a public servant, Channel 13 reported.

The officer responsible for the death of Solomon Tekah, 19, whose name is barred from publication, was recently reinstated by the Israel Police and then, after an outcry, moved to the fire department.

The announcement of the officer’s return had caused anger among Israel’s Ethiopian community, which perceived the death of Tekah in Haifa as a reflection of racism and discrimination within the police ranks, and held mass protests for several weeks.

On Wednesday, civil service chief Daniel Hershkowitz said it was unacceptable for him to return to any sort of public duty while still on trial.

“The civil service continues to have high standards and values and public responsibility as a goal,” said Hershkowitz. “We need to take this into account when evaluating a candidate, especially if he has a criminal past or is currently facing criminal charges.”

Israel Police chief  Yaacov (Kobi) Shabtai had met Friday with Tekah’s family, a day after it was announced that the officer will return to his former position.

“After serious deliberations regarding the decision to reinstate him to active duty, I have decided the best path will be to send him to the Fire and Rescue Department where he will serve until the end of the legal proceedings against him,” said Shabtai, who called Tekah’s killing “regrettable and tragic.”

Police Commissioner Yaacov Shabtai (3R) and Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan (C) meets with the family of Solomon Tekah on February 12,2021 (Israel Police)

The initial announcement that the officer would return to duty had sparked an outcry from the family and from the Ethiopian community, who threatened fresh protests.

Following Friday’s announcement, Tekah’s father Worka said that for now he was satisfied and called for restraint from the Ethiopian community.

“The commissioner told me in his words that the officer who killed my son will not return to the police,” he told Channel 12. “I ask all the young people who planned to go and protest, please do not. We will wait patiently until the end of the trial.”

“What broke me yesterday was imagining the officer again wearing a police uniform, but now that will not happen,” he said.

Shabtai also called on all parties to act responsibly.

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

“I support the police in their work, but at the same time I continue to view our moral obligations to be responsive to the public and their concerns,” he said.

The officer, whose name is barred from publication by court order, has been accused of recklessly causing Tekah’s death by firing a bullet at the ground — from where it bounced and hit the teen — rather than firing warning shots in the air.

The shooting occurred in the Haifa neighborhood of Kiryat Haim. According to an investigation, the off-duty officer, who was with his children, intervened after his wife noticed that some teenagers had taken money from another boy. He then alerted the police hotline to the alleged theft, but the dispatched police car was delayed.

In the interim, according to the investigation, the officer and his family members were pelted with stones, including by Tekah, prompting the officer to draw his weapon and fire at the ground. The bullet ricocheted and killed Tekah.

The killing of Tekah sparked nationwide protests, some of which turned violent. It 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 was systemic discrimination against the community.

A car was set on fire after being attacked by rioters during a protest following the death of 19-year-old Ethiopian, Solomon Tekah who was shot and killed in Kiryat Haim by an off-duty police officer, in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019. (Flash90)

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department said that while the officer was in danger at the time, it was not life-threatening and under no circumstances should he have fired at the ground.

He was charged with negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Tekah’s death followed other alleged incidents of racism by police. Six months earlier, Yehuda Biadga, 24, a mentally ill Ethiopian-Israeli, was shot and killed by police who say he charged an officer while brandishing a knife.

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