A judge in Hadera leveled harsh criticism against police for their “shocking” conduct on Wednesday after officers beat a man from the Ethiopian community while in custody.
The attack was the latest incident in what community leaders and others have said is a pattern of racism and abuse by police toward Ethiopian-Israelis, despite promises from on high to root out the problem.
Behela Melso told Hadashot news that he called police to his family’s home on Wednesday after he got into an altercation with his brother, who he said was drunk and acting violently.
By the time the officers arrived, Melso said he regretted calling police over the incident and had changed his mind about filing a complaint against his brother. However, the officers told Melso that he had to report the incident, and took both brothers to the police station for questioning.
During the questioning Melso said he got into an argument with the officers over the complaint, and one of them punched him in the face, breaking his nose. He was bleeding profusely and taken to the hospital for treatment.
Pictures obtained by Hadashot news showed Melso handcuffed to a hospital bed with blood covering his clothes.
While he was at the hospital, police asked a Hadera District Court judge to extend Melso’s remand.
Judge Alex Ahter rejected the request, ordered Melso released immediately, and harshly criticized police for their handling of the incident.
“I was presented with a difficult and disturbing picture, and it was shocking,” he wrote in his decision. “It’s difficult for me to accept that it was necessary to use force against a suspect in such a manner… that necessitated him receiving medical attention.”
Ahter slammed the officers for their “severe and disproportionate assault” use of force, and for keeping him shackled to his hospital bed while receiving medical attention. He added that forcing Melso to file a complaint against his will was “unjustifiable.”
Police in response denied Melso’s account of events, saying it was his sister who had called police to the house on behalf of their mother who was frightened. They said both brothers were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they arrived, and detained them both to investigate the incident further.
In a statement, police said after arriving at the station, one of the brothers violently lashed out at officers, and damaged property.
The statement said one suspect was “injured in the nose” during the outburst, and that the circumstances of his injury would be investigated internally.
The incident comes a week after police in Ashdod violently apprehended an Ethiopian Israeli teenager in the middle of the school day.
A video of the incident obtained by the Kan Public Broadcaster shows an officer strangling the 15-year-old and dragging him while another punches him, all while the school principal looks on and does nothing.
Police had summoned the teen to come to the station to answer questions a week earlier after he and several others sprayed tear gas inside the school. When he failed to show, detectives arrived at his school and detained him there.
The teen’s arrest was widely criticized by lawmakers, the Welfare and Labor Ministry and the city of Ashdod, who called for the incident to be investigated.
Police rejected claims of racism or that officers employed excessive force, saying the 15-year-old had “actively” resisted arrest.
More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, most of them having immigrated in two waves in 1984 and 1991. But many have struggled to integrate into Israeli society amid lingering accusations of discrimination.
In their appeal earlier this month to Ethiopian-Israelis to submit requests for pardons for public order offenses in honor of the Sigd holiday President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked cited a government report adopted two years ago that described discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community in various fields including law enforcement, health, education and employment. The report found that criminal investigations were opened and charges were brought against Ethiopian-Israelis at a significantly higher rate than their representation in the population.