A police officer whose killing of a 19-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli sparked nationwide protests was freed from house arrest on a reported NIS 5,000 ($1,400) bail Monday but faces court-ordered restrictions in light of expected charges of reckless homicide.
The suspect is barred from entering the Zevulun police station for 45 days and is prevented from visiting the scene of the killing. A representative of the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department told the Haifa Magistrate’s Court that a decision has not yet been made on whether the officer will be allowed to return to work, Channel 13 news reported.
The officer, who has not been publicly named, was off duty when he shot Solomon Tekah on June 30 in Haifa. He has claimed he was trying to break up a street fight and 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.
The officer is expected to face charges of reckless homicide, which carries a sentence of up to 12 years in jail. This new categorization, which came into existence five days ago in a justice system reform, is applicable when a suspect is thought to have taken an unreasonable risk but without the intention of causing death — e.g., playing with a loaded weapon or driving dangerously.
According to Hebrew-language media reports Monday, the PIID said the investigation into the shooting has been completed and the case transferred to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
The Tekah family responded Monday to the expected downgrading of the offense from manslaughter to reckless homicide, saying: “The whole family seeks for the truth to be discovered and justice served, and unfortunately the decisions of the PIID and State Prosecutor’s Office in their public statements show a tendency to attribute reduced responsibility to a police officer who killed our loved one in his prime.”
The family’s lawyer, too, bemoaned the fact that the change in the law meant that the officer could face lesser charges, and said that the officer’s release was a “direct continuation of unfortunate conduct” by officials.
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 had fired at the ground and the bullet apparently ricocheted and struck Tekah.
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.
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.