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Police reinstate officer who killed Ethiopian-Israeli teen in 2019; family fumes

Cop was accused of recklessly killing Solomon Tekah, sparking nationwide protests; family voices ‘shock and astonishment’ over his return to force

Ethiopian-Israelis and supporters demonstrate against police violence and discrimination following the death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, who was shot and killed in Haifa by an off-duty police officer; Jerusalem, July 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ethiopian-Israelis and supporters demonstrate against police violence and discrimination following the death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, who was shot and killed in Haifa by an off-duty police officer; Jerusalem, July 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Police on Thursday told an officer charged with causing the shooting death of a teenager of Ethiopian descent in 2019 that he will return to his former position on Sunday.

The decision is likely to cause outrage in Israel’s Ethiopian community, which perceived the death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah in Haifa as a reflection of racism and discrimination within the police ranks, and held mass protests for several weeks.

The officer, whose name is barred from publication by court order, was happy and excited to receive the news, his lawyer Yair Nadashi told the Walla news website, welcoming the “correct decision.”

He has been accused of recklessly causing Tekah’s death by firing a bullet at the ground — from where it bounced and hit the teen — rather than firing warning shots in the air.

Worka and Wbjig Tekah hold a picture of their son Solomon Tekah, 19, who was killed by an off-duty police officer; at their home in the Israeli city of Haifa, on July 3, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Zion Amir, the lawyer for the Tekah family, said the family has “voiced shock and astonishment over this outrageous decision to reinstate an officer standing a criminal trial that hasn’t ended, and which we learned about from the media.”

He said district commander Yoram Sofer “ought to have taken these facts into consideration and let the court have its say.”

Amir added the decision was insensitive.

Yami, Tekah’s sister, said: “I’m shocked. I’m shaking. I don’t believe it. I feel like they stabbed me in the heart. I expect the police commissioner to cancel this illogical decision today.”

The Justice Ministry said the decision was made “after deeply examining the evidence and weighing the entire circumstances and arguments heard during the disciplinary hearing.”

The shooting occurred in the Haifa neighborhood of Kiryat Haim. According to an investigation, the off-duty officer, who was with his children, intervened after his wife noticed that some teenagers had taken money from another boy. He then alerted the police hotline to the alleged theft, but the dispatched police car was delayed.

In the interim, according to the investigation, the officer and his family members were pelted with stones, including by Tekah, prompting the officer to draw his weapon and fire at the ground. The bullet ricocheted and killed Tekah.

The killing of Tekah sparked nationwide protests, some of which turned violent. It immediately drew renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Days after the shooting, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires, and denounced what they said was systemic discrimination against the community.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department said that while the officer was in danger at the time, it was not life-threatening and under no circumstances should he have fired at the ground.

He was charged with negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Tekah’s death followed other alleged incidents of racism by police. Six months earlier, Yehuda Biadga, 24, a mentally ill Ethiopian-Israeli, was shot and killed by police who say he charged an officer while brandishing a knife.

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