A police officer will face downgraded negligent homicide charges in the shooting death of an Ethiopian-Israeli teen in June, Hebrew-language media reports said Monday, in a decision that could reignite protests that gripped the country earlier this year.
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 sparked 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 (PIID) is due on Tuesday to announce whether the officer, who was off-duty at the time of the shooting and has not been named publicly, will be charged and, if so, with what offense.
Channel 13 and Maariv reported, without citing sources, that the decision which will be announced is to indict him of the relatively lenient offense of negligent homicide which carries a maximum punishment of three years in jail.
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.
The Haaretz daily last month reported that the PIID was leaning toward indicting the officer of negligent homicide since investigators did not believe they would be able to dispute the officer’s account that he felt his life was in danger before he fired his weapon.
The officer has maintained he was trying to break up a street fight and was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life. The officer says he fired a shot at the ground and the bullet ricocheted up, fatally hitting Tekah.
Investigators determined the policeman had no reason to draw his gun, that report said, even though the officer said Tekah was throwing stones at him.
An associate of the officer told Channel 13 that the officer’s allies believe he should be disciplined, but not charged with a crime.
“It was clear to us from the first moment — this is not a manslaughter case. Nor is it a negligent homicide case. It is, at most, a disciplinary court case. We believe justice will be delivered,” the unnamed associate said.
Monday’s report quoted police sources estimating that the protests could be re-launched as a result of the failure to charge the officer of a more severe crime.
“We have intelligence according to which, 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.
The family’s lawyer said they would wait to hear the official announcement.
“We will arrive tomorrow at the PIID offices to hear the explanation for the decision and we will then be able to understand whether the findings match the family’s claims,” attorney Zion Amir said.
“The family has shown restraint throughout [the investigation],” he added. “Nevertheless, we reserve the right to petition to the High Court if we don’t agree with the decision.”
Avi Yalou, one of the leaders of the previous 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.”