Officer reportedly says he told cop not to shoot autistic Palestinian

Some 3 months after Jerusalem incident, investigators reenact Iyad Halak’s killing with the 2 officers involved, one of whom reportedly says suspect didn’t pose a threat

One of the officers who was involved in the killing of Iyad Halak is seen with investigators during a reconstruction of the incident in Jerusalem, August 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
One of the officers who was involved in the killing of Iyad Halak is seen with investigators during a reconstruction of the incident in Jerusalem, August 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department on Wednesday reconstructed the police shooting of Iyad Halak, an autistic East Jerusalem man who was mistakenly shot to death by cops in late May.

The police officer who is the main suspect in the case Halak took part in the reenactment and described the incident to investigators.

Investigators filmed the reconstruction of the incident, which took about 15 minutes, Haaretz reported. The officer guided the investigators along the route of the incident, ending in the room where Halak was shot.

A second suspect in the shooting then reenacted the incident separately, the report said.

It was the first reconstruction of the incident by investigators. A previous planned reconstruction was called off in June due to media presence at the scene.

Halak, who was 32, was fatally shot on May 30 just inside Jerusalem’s Old City as he was making his daily walk to the special-needs institution he attended. At the time, police said they believed he was carrying a gun and said they opened fire when he failed to heed calls to stop.

Iyad Halak. (Courtesy)

According to various accounts, two members of Israel’s Border Police chased Halak into a garbage room and shot him as he cowered next to a bin. Halak’s teacher, who was with him, told an Israeli TV station that she repeatedly cried out to police that he was “disabled” as she tried to stop them. He was shot at least seven times.

His family has repeatedly called on police to release security camera footage of the incident.

According to Haaretz, the police officer who commanded the force that pursued Halak has told investigators he didn’t pose a danger and there was no cause to shoot him.

He said he instructed the officer who shot Halak to hold his fire, but the policeman didn’t hear him.

“We chased after him and called to him, but he continued running,” the commanding officer was quoted as telling investigators. “At a certain stage I fired toward his lower body, but didn’t detect a hit.”

After entering the garbage room, the officer said he told the other border cop not to shoot after he fired a shot, but that “the suspect [Halak] apparently made some sort of movement that caused my partner to shoot again.”

The officer also stressed he was aware of the “volatility” of the area where the shooting occurred.

“There was a gap between the report I received in the beginning… that this is someone whose goal is to hurt innocents, and the situation in the garbage room,” he said. “This is a closed space that has no escape route. [Halak] didn’t attack or do anything. He definitely wasn’t standing. He didn’t endanger me in that situation.”

Last month, representatives of the investigations department met with Halak’s parents to update them about the investigation, telling the family that security cameras at the site of the shooting were not recording at the time.

The revelation drew calls from the family of Halak that a probe be launched out of concern that police were hiding evidence in the case.

At the time, the shooting drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the US and prompted a series of small demonstrations against police violence. The uproar crossed Israeli-Palestinian lines and drew Jewish protesters as well, and Israeli leaders expressed regret over the shooting.

But since then, the family has complained about the slow pace of the investigation.

Israelis protest the killing of Iyad Halak, May 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The two policemen involved in the incident gave conflicting accounts of the events, with a commander telling investigators he had urged his subordinate officer to cease fire, an order that was not followed, he said. The officer denied the commander’s account.

An eyewitness reportedly confirmed the testimony of Halak’s teacher, saying he was shot while he lay on the floor, and that officers were told at the time that he was disabled.

Human rights groups say Israel has a poor record of prosecuting cases of violence against Palestinians.

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