Police seemingly working to block release of video from shooting of autistic man

Judge grants request to place gag order on minutes of court session regarding appeal filed by family of Iyad Halak, who was shot dead by cops in Jerusalem’s Old City

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Rana, mother of Iyad Halak, 32, holds his photo at their home in East Jerusalem's Wadi Joz, May 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Rana, mother of Iyad Halak, 32, holds his photo at their home in East Jerusalem's Wadi Joz, May 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepted a police request to bar the publication of minutes from a hearing on a petition filed by the family of an autistic Palestinian man seeking the release of security camera footage showing him being shot by police in the Old City.

The family of Iyad Halak, 32, filed the petition earlier this week. It also asked the judge to compel the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to confirm whether it has collected the CCTV footage, amid their fears that law enforcement will not use it in the probe of the May 30 incident.

Halak was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City last weekend while he was on his way to his school for individuals with special needs. Police said he had appeared to be holding a gun, but Halak was only holding a cellphone — as his father told the media — and apparently had not understood officers’ orders to halt as he passed near the Lion’s Gate. His caretaker, who witnessed the incident, told reporters that Halak fled on foot and hid in a garbage room, where he was shot at least seven times.

The family noted in its petition that security cameras are installed in the alleys through which police chased Halak, as well as in the garbage room where he sought refuge.

When the court convened on Wednesday to discuss the Halak petition, police representatives requested the hearing be closed to the public. The officers presented a gag-order that has been placed over the case, but because it only covers publication of the involved officers’ names, the judge denied the request.

However, police representatives subsequently requested and were granted a sidebar hearing, during which reporters and members of the Halak family in the courtroom were ordered to exit the chamber.

The judge went on to accept the Internal Investigations Department request to place an additional gag order on the minutes in the ensuing session, even though that matters discussed went beyond the scope of the existing gag order, according to the Ynet news site.

With the additional gag-order in place, it was not clear whether the court would compel police to release the security camera footage, which they appeared to be seeking to prevent. A police spokesperson declined to comment on the request for a gag-order on the minutes of the hearing.

On Monday, Halak’s family members told reporters they did not believe Israel would do “anything” to the offending cops because the victim had been Palestinian.

The policemen involved in the incident gave conflicting accounts of the events, with a commander telling investigators he had urged his subordinate to cease fire, an order that was not followed, he said, according to reports in Hebrew media. The officer denied the commander’s account.

Iyad Halak (Courtesy)

The two were questioned under caution after the shooting. One officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from custody under restrictive conditions.

Investigators were looking into whether Halak was shot only after taking refuge in the garbage room, and not during the foot chase.

Halak’s caregiver told Israeli media she informed the police officers he was disabled and did not understand their commands, but said they ignored her cries despite him repeatedly screaming, “I’m with her, I’m with her!”

Amir Ohana, the new public security minister, who oversees the police, expressed sorrow for Halak’s death and vowed to investigate. But he said it was too early to “pass judgement” on the police officers involved, noting that they “are required to make fateful decisions in seconds, in an area that has been inundated with terror attacks, and in which there is a constant danger to their lives.”

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