An off-duty police officer who shot and killed an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager with a ricocheting bullet broke regulations by aiming his pistol at the ground to fire the warning shot that turned fatal, prosecutors told a hearing about the case on Sunday.
A representative of 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.
The officer, who has not been named, shot Solomon Tekah dead in Haifa on June 30, 2019, setting off fierce protests across the country. He has been charged with negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Tekah’s father, mother, and sister were at the Haifa Magistrate’s Court for the hearing.
PIID prosecutor Ronen Yitzhak told the court the tragedy was a “quick and fast incident at night.”
However, such a fatal outcome was “rare,” Yitzhak said, exactly because warning shots are supposed to be fired into the air.
“Things like this don’t happen since police regulations state unequivocally to not shoot at the ground. No one shoots at the ground,” he said.
“The absolute minimum is to fire a warning at a certain angle, not to shoot like that,” he said. “A person is prohibited from firing like that — we are not in a Western.”
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 him to draw his weapon and fire at the ground. The bullet ricocheted and killed Tekah.
“We don’t claim that he was not in danger; he was in a certain amount of danger, but not life-threatening danger,” Yitzhak said. “He was permitted to only shoot a warning shot in the air, according to orders.”
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.