Investigators close Ethiopian-Israeli police abuse case

Family of Yosef Salamsa, who committed suicide in 2014, filed harassment complaints over taser wounds, threats

Yosef Salamsa, left, killed himself in July 2014 after he was allegedly abused by police, his family has charged. (Facebook)
Yosef Salamsa, left, killed himself in July 2014 after he was allegedly abused by police, his family has charged. (Facebook)

Investigators announced Sunday they would close a criminal investigation into alleged police abuse of Yosef Salamsa, an Israeli of Ethiopian heritage, who committed suicide in 2014.

No evidence was found of criminal conduct by police officers, though several instances of misconduct warranted internal disciplinary steps, investigators in the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Unit — the external body that scrutinizes police misconduct — said in a statement.

Salamsa was found dead in a quarry in the northern city of Binyamina in July 2014. Police determined he had committed suicide.

But Ethiopian-Israeli community activists said Salamsa was the victim of repeated abuse by police officers, a factor that may have contributed to his suicide.

According to activist Ziva Birsaw, police officers attacked Salamsa in Zichron Yaakov in March 2014 after responding to a disorderly conduct call that alleged Salamsa was drunk and behaving violently. A Channel 2 News investigation of the complaints alleged that the officers “burned him with a taser” after arriving on the scene, causing burns to his stomach and hand.

After the incident, Birsaw said, Salamsa fell into a deep depression.

Salamsa’s mother and sister filed a formal complaint with the police on April 3, 2014, which led to further harassment by the offending officers, the family charged.

The Police Investigation Unit closed the case at the time because Salamsa declined to file a complaint himself.

The police harassment only ended, family members say, with the discovery of his body in July of that year.

The police reopened the case after the family renewed its call for an investigation in November 2014, with the new enquiry finding several serious procedural errors in officers’ handling of Salamsa’s incarceration, including the filing of reports that falsely claimed officers warned Salamsa before resorting to the taser, the investigators said.

Despite findings of some procedural misconduct, there was no clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing by police, the internal police investigation said. State Attorney Shai Nitzan approved the decision to close the case, the Justice Ministry said.

Ethiopian-Israeli activists have called the case representative of what they say is rampant police mistreatment of Israelis of Ethiopian heritage.

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