Mother of killed Ethiopian Israeli teen: 'No justice'

Police officer in slaying of Ethiopian-Israeli youth acquitted of negligent manslaughter

Court finds police officer’s life was endangered by Solomon Tekah, that the warning shot he fired was a reasonable action, and that he acted in self-defense

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

Family members and supporters of Solomon Tekah protest as Haifa Magistrate's Court Judge Zaid Falah and the policeman accused of negligent manslaughter in Tekah's death visit the scene of the incident in Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Family members and supporters of Solomon Tekah protest as Haifa Magistrate's Court Judge Zaid Falah and the policeman accused of negligent manslaughter in Tekah's death visit the scene of the incident in Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

The off-duty police officer accused of the reckless manslaughter of Solomon Tekah in 2019, an incident that led to widespread riots by elements of the Ethiopian Israeli community, was found not guilty by the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Tekah, an 18-year-old from the Ethiopian community, sustained fatal injuries from fragments of a bullet that ricocheted up at the teen after the police officer fired a warning shot into the ground at his feet, following a violent attack in which Tekah and four other youths threw rocks at the police officer, the court found.

Judge Zaid Falah ruled that evidence, including the forensic analysis of DNA samples from the incident, demonstrated that the police officer’s life was at risk during the attack against him, as were the lives of his wife and three children who were with him at the time, and that the warning shot he fired was a reasonable decision.

He ruled further that even if the risk caused by the warning shot had not been reasonable, the criteria for self-defense were fulfilled in the circumstances of the case and that the police officer would therefore have been justified in taking more severe action.

Tekah’s death led to renewed accusations of police violence and discrimination against the Ethiopian Israeli community and sparked riots around the country.

Tekah’s family criticized the court’s ruling, with his mother telling the media outside the court that justice had not been done. The Department for Internal Police Investigations (DIPI), which filed the indictment against the police officer, indicated it would consider filing an appeal against the decision.

Family members of Solomon Tekah seen outside the Haifa Magistrate’s Court after the court ruling acquitting the police officer who shot him of negligent manslaughter, April 2, 2024. (Flash90)

Before reading out the legal judgment, the judge established the factual details of the case. Four of the youths involved, not including Tekah, became involved in a dispute over money, leading the police officer, whose name the court has banned from publication, to approach the group and identify himself as an off-duty police officer.

Tekah then showed up, and the youths, aged, 16, 15, 14, and 13, began verbally abusing and mocking the police officer, who as a result backed away from the scene and back towards his family with whom he then sought to leave the area entirely.

The youths, including Tekah, followed the police officer however, and began throwing stones at him, which struck him on various parts of his body, including the back of the neck, Falah stated.

The officer called the 100 emergency services line and called for a police squad car to be dispatched. During that call, one of the youths was heard threatening to throw a breeze block at the policeman.

At this stage the police officer drew his sidearm and aimed it at the youths, warning them to back away. When they failed to do so, and moreover while Tekah was still holding a rock in his hand and stepped towards the police officer, “the accused felt his life and the lives of his wife and children were in danger and therefore fired one bullet to the side of the departed, and the core of the bullet ricocheted from the asphalt towards the body of the departed and caused his death,” the judge said.

Falah noted that the results of forensic testing found that Tekah had alcohol and THC, the active component of cannabis, in his body at the time of the incident.

DNA from Tekah and the police officer was found on four of nine rocks analyzed in forensic testing during the investigation, which the judge said proved that Tekah had handled the rocks and that the police officer had been injured by the rocks thrown at him.

Falah also noted that a medical expert had testified that the rock that hit the police officer on the back of the neck could have threatened his life.

The policeman accused of shooting to death Solomon Tekah in Kiryat Haim arrives for a court hearing at the Haifa court, northern Israel, April 2, 2024. (Gideon Markowicz/Pool)

He added that he found the eyewitness testimony of the youths involved in the incident to be unreliable, saying they contradicted each other in their statements to the police and that evidence in the case contradicted their testimony.

“I am convinced that the accused was in a life-threatening situation and in a real and actual and immediate danger of bodily harm, so, despite the severe result of his actions, he saved his own life and that of his family,” said Falah in reading out the verdict in court.

“I am therefore convinced that the shot fired by the accused was justified, because of this real threat. The risk taken by the accused in firing at the departed was not unreasonable and was necessary due to the circumstances,” the judge continued.

“I have concluded that the criteria for self-defense were fulfilled in this incident. After the accused was injured, the departed and his friends did not stop attacking him and at the time of the shot continued to hold stones and did not listen to the accused’s warnings to back away.

“The purpose of the warning shot was to neutralize the danger, to distance his attackers, and stop them from actualizing the threat to his life, his body and that of his family.”

The judge said he was therefore acquitting the police officer on the charge of negligent manslaughter since that charge requires that the suspect took an unreasonable risk to the life of the victim, which Falah found not to be the case.

He found that regardless, the criteria of self-defense were met in the incident meaning that action entailing a high risk to the victim would have anyway been justified.

Turning to Tekah’s family, Falah acknowledged that it may be difficult for them to accept his ruling and that it may anger them and cause them a sense of injustice.

Haifa Magistrate’s Court Judge Zaid Falah arrives to deliver the verdict in the trial of a police officer accused of the negligent manslaughter of Solomon Tekah in 2019, April 2, 2024. (Gideon Markowicz/Pool)

“Justice does not act only on one side, but on both sides, in the sense that just as justice can lead to the conviction of the accused, the same justice can also lead to his acquittal, as happened in this case,” said Falah however.

“I again express my deepest condolences following the loss of your son, and at the same time, state that his death was not caused by a crime.”

Mother: ‘No justice’

Speaking after Falah announced that the police officer had been acquitted, Tekah’s mother described the ruling as “very painful” and disappointing.

“We had a small hope and it was dashed. There is no justice,” Channel 13 reported her as saying.

Following the ruling, DIPI said it would “study the ruling” and “weigh our options,” hinting at a possible appeal against the decision.

The agency emphasized in its response that the indictment against the police officer related to the fact that he fired a shot at the ground, close to Tekah’s feet, which it said was “in total contravention of police regulations and procedures which allow in such circumstances warning shots in the air at the most.”

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