Ombudsman says 30% of complaints against law enforcement officials justified

Incidents include alleged sexual assault case that was closed without informing accusers, and a child neglect case which took 3 months to be assigned

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Ombudsman of the State Representatives in the Courts Menachem Finkelstein (left), May 17, 2023. (Flash90)
Ombudsman of the State Representatives in the Courts Menachem Finkelstein (left), May 17, 2023. (Flash90)

Thirty percent of public complaints made in 2022 against state prosecutors, including the State Attorney’s Office and Israel Police, were found to be justified, the ombudsman of state representatives in the courts has found.

Complaints included cases of severe shortcomings, such as one incident in which a sexual assault case was closed without the state prosecutor responsible for the case informing the four accusers before the decision was finalized, as is required.

In total, the ombudsman’s office dealt with 437 complaints in 2022, of which 131 were found to be justified.

“It seems that even in these tumultuous days, when there are sharp disputes over the judicial system, there is a broad consensus regarding the importance of effective criticism of the state’s prosecutors, who hold great power, and the need to increase the tools for optimal implementation [of such criticism],” said Ombudsman Menachem Finkelstein.

The Ombudsman’s Office is tasked with dealing with complaints made regarding the conduct of state legal representatives to the courts by anyone who believes they were harmed by such officials.

The 437 complaints filed in 2022 related to officials in the State Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Police Prosecution Division, municipal prosecutors, lawyers authorized to represent the state by the Attorney General’s Office and the disciplinary department of the Civil Service.

State Prosecutor Amit Aisman at the Israel Bar Association’s annual conference in Tel Aviv, September 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Some 30% of those were found to be justified. Of those, 55% were related to officials in the State Attorney’s Office; 20% to the Police Prosecution Division; 6% to the Attorney General’s Office; 17% to prosecutors hired by the Attorney General’s Office; and 2% to officials in the disciplinary department of the Civil Service.

Following the review of the sexual assault case involving the four accusers, the state attorney responsible for the decision conducted a meeting with them and decided to review the investigative material before making a final decision.

In another serious incident highlighted by the ombudsman’s report, a state attorney closed a case despite the fact that video footage from police body cameras was missing from the file and when investigative evidence indicated that such footage existed. A request by the complainant to reopen the case and use the video footage was rejected by the State Attorney’s Office.

The Ombudsman’s Office described the behavior by prosecutors as “unacceptable” and recommended that guidelines be established to determine to what extent a prosecutor is required to review such evidence before a final decision on the case.

Another example cited by the report involved a case of child neglect which was allocated to a state prosecutor three months after the complaint was received.

A deputy to State Attorney Amit Aisman told the Ombudsman’s Office in response to the questions it raised regarding the latter case that the organizational structure of the district office in question had recently changed to improve case management.

Justice Ministry Director-General Itamar Donnenfeld welcomed the report, saying it was critical in ensuring that legal representatives of the state conduct their work in the best possible manner.

“The ombudsman’s work as an independent body of review increases the public’s trust in the law enforcement system, and the report shows that along with a thorough and rigorous investigation of the various public complaints, the ombudsman’s office works to provide a quick and efficient response to complainants.”

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