Autopsy results for the Ethiopian-Israeli teenager killed by a police officer last month were released on Wednesday, showing that he had consumed alcohol prior to the shooting, and that the bullet had ricocheted before hitting him, corroborating the officer’s account of the incident.
The examination found that 19-year-old Solomon Tekah had twice the blood alcohol level legally defined as intoxicated when he was killed on June 30. The autopsy also showed that he had smoked cannabis sometime prior to the shooting, Channel 12 news reported.
The head of the National Center of Forensic Medicine, Chen Kugel, said that the autopsy showed that it was “99.9 percent certain” that the bullet struck the ground before hitting Tekah, judging from the shape of the wound and the remnants of the bullet that they found. The shot had not been fired from close range, Kugel said.
He confirmed that Tekah’s DNA had been found on a stone at the scene but said he could not draw any conclusions from the finding.
Tekah’s family called the release of the autopsy results “another intolerable step” and a “serious violation of the investigative process.”
The family’s lawyer, Jack Hen, said “this is another slander of a victim who was shot to death at the hands of the police.”
“After the officer killed Solomon, slandering his name again and again just kills the soul of his family and his brother while they are in mourning,” Hen said.
The officer, who has not been publicly named, was off duty when he shot Tekah 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. A Police Internal Investigations Department probe found that the bullet ricocheted on the ground and hit Tekah, fatally wounding him.
The police officer’s lawyer, Yair Nadashi, said the autopsy results backed up his client’s account of the shooting.
“The findings that were released today regarding the level of alcohol and drugs found in the blood of the deceased supports our defense claim that my client was forced to act in self-defense,” Nadashi said.
Through his lawyer, the officer said that “with God’s help the truth and justice will come to light.”
The killing of Tekah sparked three days of nationwide protests which at times turned violent and saw damage to property. The 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 Haifa Magistrate’s Court freed the officer from house arrest on Monday but he still faces court-ordered restrictions in light of expected charges of reckless homicide. The suspect is barred from entering the Zevulun police station in Haifa for 45 days and is prevented from visiting the scene of the killing.
Reckless homicide 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.
Nadashi said that his client has gone into hiding with his family due to threats made against them, but hopes one day to return to his job with police. Nadashi said the officer regrets the outcome of shooting and sends his condolences to the Tekah family.
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 attorney general and Israel Police chief on Tuesday announced the formation of a task force to tackle complaints of police violence against members of the community.
Ethiopian Jews, who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan, began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, when Israel secretly airlifted them to the Holy Land to save them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa.