A police officer whose killing of a 19-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli sparked nationwide protests could be freed on bail from house arrest on Monday.
The officer, who has not been publicly named, was off duty when he shot dead Solomon Tekah on June 30 in Haifa. He has claimed he was trying to break up a street fight, but was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life. He said he did not target Tekah, and instead fired at the ground.
Tekah’s death set off protests across Israel that included violence and destruction of property, and also led to renewed accusations by the Ethiopian community of racism from law enforcement.
According to Hebrew media reports Sunday, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department is not expected to request an extension of the officer’s house arrest at a remand hearing Monday.
If released, the officer will still likely face court ordered restrictions, the Walla news site reported, without elaborating.
“A release like this would certainly cause surprise among the family, to put it mildly, in light of the circumstances, given that the investigation is ongoing and particularly in light of the fact that from the outset there was no cause for the PIID to agree to release him to house arrest” Rina Ayalin-Gorelik, a lawyer for the Tekah family, told the news site.
The investigation into the shooting has so far reportedly corroborated the officer’s version of events.
Last week, Channel 12 news reported that Tekah’s DNA was found on a rock recovered from the scene, which could indicate that Tekah threw or at least held the rock prior to being shot, and could strengthen the police officer’s case.
The PIID has said a probe into Tekah’s death concluded the officer indeed fired at the ground and the bullet apparently ricocheted and struck Tekah.
Also last week, Tekah’s father bewailed what he called efforts to clear the officer of responsibility for the killing.
“We have lost trust in the Police Internal Investigations Department,” said Worka Tekah at a memorial service for his son.
“The writing is on the wall, the officer will be cleared. The results are clear and painful. He won’t be punished and he won’t be tried,” he said.
PIID chief Keren Bar Menachem met last week with the attorneys for Tekah’s family and relatives at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem, where she updated them on the progress in the investigation. The family’s attorneys asked to see the forensic reports and the results of Tekah’s autopsy and were told the request would be taken under consideration and an answer given soon, Hebrew media reported.
Officials are said to be leaning toward charging the officer with reckless homicide, rather than manslaughter.
The shooting incident immediately sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community. Days after the shooting, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires and denounced what they said is systemic discrimination against Israelis of Ethiopian descent.
The demonstrations escalated after Tekah’s funeral, when some protesters set vehicles on fire, overturned a police car and clashed with officers and others who tried to break through their makeshift roadblocks.
Protests faded after Tekah’s family asked that demonstrations be paused until after the seven-day Jewish mourning period, which ended last week. The family also asked that future protests be kept nonviolent.