State attorney orders probe into police conduct in killing of Yuval Castleman

Internal investigation to take precedence over police probe, after autopsy finds M-16 bullet, shrapnel in exhumed body of slain civilian hero

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

Yuval Castleman is fatally shot after preventing the continuation of a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem on November 30, 2023. (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Yuval Castleman is fatally shot after preventing the continuation of a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem on November 30, 2023. (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

State Attorney Amit Aisman on Monday ordered the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) to open an examination into the conduct of the investigative team dealing with the killing of Yuval Castleman, a civilian who was shot by an off-duty reserve soldier at the scene of a deadly terror attack that Castleman heroically stopped in Jerusalem last month.

Aisman instructed the head of Israel Police Investigations and Intelligence Division, Superintendent Yigal Ben Shalom, not to conduct his own investigation, as was previously planned, until the PIID has completed its examination, the State Attorney’s Office said in a statement to the press.

An autopsy on Sunday found an M-16 bullet and pieces of shrapnel in Castleman’s exhumed body, findings which were at odds with the Israel Police’s position immediately after the incident that there were no bullets left in Castleman’s body, and that such a procedure was unnecessary.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told Ben Shalom to probe the new-found evidence and the overall handling of the investigation after the autopsy’s results, but the PIID examination will now be conducted first.

Castlemen was killed at the scene of the terror shooting at a Jerusalem bus stop, when Staff Sgt. (res.) Aviad Frija, one of two off-duty troops who responded to the attack, shot at the two terrorists. He also opened fire at Castleman, an armed civilian who had stopped his car across the street and himself shot at the terrorists.

Footage from the scene showed that Frija shot Castleman after the latter had put his gun down and was holding his hands in the air. He was questioned under caution last Sunday, arrested on suspicion of reckless homicide, then released to house arrest on Wednesday.

Aviad Frija (left) at a military courtroom, December 5, 2023. (Walla screenshot); Yuval Castleman. (Courtesy)

Castleman’s relatives have been interviewed extensively since the incident, decrying a lack of communication with law enforcement officials and negligence in the investigation.

Three people were killed and five were injured by the terrorists in the attack. Castleman was driving on the other side of the street when the attack occurred; he stopped his car, crossed the road and rushed at the terrorists with his firearm and fired at them.

The soldiers, who arrived at the scene at around the same time, apparently mistook Castleman for a third assailant, and at least one, Frija, fired at him.

Graphic video from the scene showed Castleman throw away his gun, fall on his knees and raise his hands in the air while shouting, “Don’t shoot” as the soldiers approached him. He was then shot again.

Castleman also yelled at the soldiers until he collapsed, “Look at my ID, I am Jewish.”

Frija’s lawyers, Col. (res,) Shlomi Tzipori and Col. (res.) Ran Cohen Rochberger, said Monday in a statement to the media that the videos showing the terror attack and fatal shooting “create a partial and false impression that does not reflect what was seen and heard from the direction of the soldier.

Following the Military Police investigation, the IDF will decide if criminal charges should be brought against Frija. IDF protocols do not allow soldiers to shoot someone who raises their hands in the air, and officials say the soldier’s conduct during the incident was not what was expected of him, based on the norms and values of the military.

Emanuel Fabian and Michael Horovitz contributed to this report.

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