Investigators: Cop who shot Ethiopian-Israeli fired at the ground

Internal affairs officials tell representatives of Solomon Tekah’s family that forensic assessment shows deceased was apparently hit by ricocheting bullet

Ora Tasmah and representatives for Solomon Tekah's family arrive at Police Internal Investigation Department in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ora Tasmah and representatives for Solomon Tekah's family arrive at Police Internal Investigation Department in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department confirmed Monday that a probe into the death of an Ethiopian-Israeli young man who was shot by an off-duty policeman had concluded the officer fired at the ground and the bullet apparently ricocheted into Solomon Tekah, 19.

PIID chief Keren Bar Menachem met with the attorneys for Tekah’s family and his cousin Ora Tasmah at the ministry in Jerusalem, where she informed them of the progress in the investigation. The family’s attorneys asked to see the ballistic 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.

Attorney Yizhak Dasah, who is representing the Tekah family, said that the PIID investigation “is being carried out professionally,” Ynet reported.

“It is important for me to come and see what is going on with the process because at the moment they have not updated the family and it is important to us that there be a fair trial,” Tasmah said before the meeting. “The family will not accept a situation in which [the policeman] doesn’t go to prison, and is released to the streets. This was a murder, not manslaughter.”

Ethiopian-Israeli Solomon Tekah who was shot dead by an off-duty policeman in Kiryat Haim on June 30, 2019. (Courtesy)

The police officer, who has not been named in media, shot Tekah dead in Haifa on June 30, setting off protests across the country that have seen violence and destruction of property.

The PIID findings seems to corroborate the officer’s claim that he did not aim at the youth but rather fired at the ground, with the bullet bouncing upward and striking Tekah. Officials are said to be leaning toward charging the man with a disciplinary offense only and not manslaughter.

Earlier Monday Tekah’s parents and family visited his grave for the first time since he was buried a week ago, and called for justice in the case. The family, accompanied by other members of the Ethiopian community, held a memorial ceremony at the Tel Regev cemetery, where he was laid to rest.

“I lost a dear son who did nothing wrong,” Tekah’s father, Worka, said alongside the grave. “I put my hope in the country’s judges and it is their responsibility to ensure justice is done. I paid a heavy price, the community paid a heavy price.”

Asaf Govana, a youth counselor and one of the leaders of the Ethiopian-Israeli community in the Haifa area where Tekah was shot, expressed little hope that the Justice Ministry investigation would lead to justice.

“The outcome of the investigation is written on the wall,” said Govana at the cemetery.

Screen capture from video of Asaf Govana, left, with relatives and supporters of the family of Solomon Tekah, during a memorial service alongside the grave of the Ethiopian-Israeli teen, who was shot dead by an off-duty policeman, July 8, 2019. (Twitter)

Govana appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action to improve the status of the Ethiopian community.

“Enough! We are fed up with committees and conclusions. Take personal responsibility and show leadership, come to the family, look them in the eyes. You know what to do, take real action.”

Govana said that at the request of Tekah’s father, protests should continue but “without violence, in a peaceful way.”

Channel 13 news reported Friday that the likelihood of the officer being charged with manslaughter has diminished considerably, with evidence at the scene and testimonies strengthening his claim that he did not fire directly at the teenager.

However, he could still be disciplined or face minor criminal charges, as officials have questioned his failure to fire a warning shot in the air.

The officer, who was not in uniform at the time, has claimed he was trying to break up a street fight he came across but was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life.

The shooting incident immediately sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community. Last Monday, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires and denounced what they said is systemic discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community. The demonstrations escalated after Tekah’s funeral Tuesday, 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.

A car is seen on fire after its driver was attacked during a protest following the death of 19-year-old Ethiopian, Solomon Tekah who was shot and killed few days ago in Kiryat Haim by an off-duty police officer, in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

Protests faded on Wednesday after Tekah’s family asked that demonstrations be paused until after the seven-day Jewish mourning period, which ended Sunday. The family also asked that future protests be kept nonviolent.

Protests were expected to resume Monday with a “march of mothers” set to take place at the Hashalom Junction in Tel Aviv under the banner “Mom, make sure I am not the next victim.” MK Pnina Tamano-Shata was scheduled to speak at the event.

Another protest was planned for the Poleg interchange in Netanya.

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.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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