Police allegedly planted a pistol in the vehicle of a Bedouin driver who had been stopped after speaking on his cellphone while driving an unlicensed car, leading to the man being charged for the much more serious firearms offense, according to video footage aired Sunday by Israeli TV.
The driver, 19, from the south of the country, was held for a month in jail until he was eventually released on Saturday after his defense attorney noticed the suspected sleight of hand when he reviewed police bodycam footage of the arrest, Channel 13 news reported.
A complaint has been filed with the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID), a Justice Ministry body tasked with investigating alleged police misconduct.
Police stopped the man, who has no previous criminal record, after he was seen using his phone while driving. A check found that the car was not licensed. Officers informed the driver that he would be arrested and the car confiscated, but that they would also search the contents.
In a video from the encounter, an officer can be heard saying, “where is the pistol?” and another policeman, on the other side of the car, responding “in the glove compartment.”
Moments later, an officer who was speaking directly with the driver begins questioning him about the still-closed glove compartment and what might be inside. The driver does not seem to respond to the questioning. Another officer, after opening the compartment, then shows his colleagues the gun wrapped in a black plastic bag.
“That is not mine,” the driver then protested.
The driver was arrested and charged with possession of a lethal firearm, with the indictment identifying the pistol as being Belgium-made.
When the driver’s attorney asked if he could listen to the radio transmission recordings from the encounter, he was told they had all been deleted, Channel 13 reported. However, he was able to review the bodycam footage, and eventually raised the alarm over what he had found.
After a month behind bars, the suspect was released when the Southern District prosecution and Beersheba District Court Judge Naser Abu Taha were shown the video evidence Saturday.
The prosecution said in a statement that details of the case has been handed over to the PIID.
“When the results of the inquiry are received, a decision will be made as to how to proceed with the case,” it said.
Though the case against the suspect is still open, a source in the prosecutor’s office told Channel 13 that “obviously there is a problem with the recordings; they speak for themselves and the case must be closed.”
The Israel Police said in a statement that “as far as claims are concerned, it should be examined by the competent authorities.”
The incident came amid increasing concern by authorities over what local residents describe as lawlessness in the south of the country and a lack of law enforcement in Bedouin communities.
In 2019, an East Jerusalem man sued police for planting a rifle in his home which they then “found” as part of a documentary aired on Israel’s public broadcaster.
Israel Police apologized to Samer Sleiman after it emerged that during the November 2018 incident — which aired as part of a television series about law enforcement in the capital — officers had placed a weapon in his home.
Sleiman later also claimed he received a threatening call from a man identifying himself as a police officer warning him not to speak to the media about the incident.