Three police officers charged with obstructing investigation of teen’s murder

One of the indicted is suspected of providing alleged stabber of Yoel Lhanghal with details of investigation; other two accused of tampering with evidence at crime scene

Yoel Lhanghal (Courtesy)
Yoel Lhanghal (Courtesy)

Three police officers were indicted Thursday for allegedly obstructing with an investigation into the fatal stabbing of a teenager in October, with prosecutors saying one of those charged passed on information about the probe to the person who eventually was charged with the murder.

Haim Gabai, Shai Cohen and Yitzhak Ben Shayah were charged with obstruction of justice, fraud, and breach of trust at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, the Police Internal Investigations Department, which is part of the Justice Ministry, said in a statement.

The charges related to the stabbing of Yoel Lhanghal, 18, during a brawl at a birthday party in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, less than a year after he immigrated to Israel from India. Local resident Liad Edri, 21, was charged with the murder in November.

According to prosecutors, Gabai and another officer were called to the scene of the brawl after it was reported to the police. Believing the incident over, they left, but were called back after another report of fighting, during which the fatal injury was inflicted on Lhanghal, who died later in the hospital.

Gabai and Edri were previously acquainted, prosecutors said, a fact that the officer kept from his superiors. According to a November report from the Kan public broadcaster, the officer’s daughter had been in a relationship with Edri.

Gabai and Edri allegedly spoke together at the scene and in the period afterward while the investigation was underway. At the time, Edri allegedly told Gabai he was involved in the brawl and asked for information about Lhanghal’s condition and later about the progress of the investigation.

They spoke several times, including by phone. Gabai gave Edri details about Lhanghal and the probe, at one point telling him he “can relax,” prosecutors say.

The morning after the stabbing, Edri’s mother called Gabai and he told her to hire an attorney because the police knew her son was connected to the violence, even though at that point investigators were not yet aware of Edri’s involvement.

Prosecutors say that although Gabai knew that Edri was involved in the fighting and possibly the stabbing too, and despite Edri’s frame of mind and his questions about the investigation, the officer did not inform his superiors and investigators.

Edri only became a suspect after police found out from another source that he was involved.

Regarding Cohen and Ben Shayah, PIID said that they were also called to the scene of the stabbing. Before they arrived, Gabai took a helmet covered in blood from the scene and put it in a police car. Cohen and Ben Shayah decided it should be returned and told Gabai to put it back, which he did, albeit in a different place.

The three officers are accused of not informing forensic teams that they had moved evidence.

A police probe following the stabbing incident found that officers initially arrived at the party in response to a call they received from guests claiming Lhanghal was abusing his girlfriend.

When officers arrived, they found that it was untrue and were instead required to break up a fight between Lhanghal and other guests at the party. After telling Lhanghal and the others to keep their distance from one another, police said they believed the issue was resolved and left the scene.

Soon after they departed, the brawl resumed and Lhanghal was stabbed.

Lhanghal’s girlfriend, named only as Hadassah, told Channel 12 news in October that the attackers were “prepared for a fight,” arriving at the party with helmets, iron bars and rocks.

Lhanghal was a member of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from a remote area of northeastern India.

Initial reports suggested that the attack may have been racially aggravated, but the reported expected charges did not reflect that.

The Bnei Menashe are believed to be descended from the biblical tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes exiled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago. In 2005, then-Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar endorsed the Bnei Menashe’s claim to Jewish ancestry but required them to convert to Judaism.

Some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have immigrated to Israel in recent years, with another 7,000 remaining in India.

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