The wife of the police officer who shot dead 19-year-old Solomon Tekah on June 30, sparking nationwide protests led by Israel’s Ethiopian community, said Friday that the family has been threatened and is in hiding since the incident.
“We’re trapped inside an apartment, and every few days we change location,” she told Channel 12 news. “We’re hardly sleeping at night. The fear is constant,” she said.
The incident in Haifa ignited furor across the country and sparked accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community.
The officer has claimed he was trying to break up a street fight but was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life. He said he did not target Tekah but rather fired at the ground.
He has not been identified, and his wife spoke under the condition of anonymity.
His wife said that their children had received threatening messages on their phones, and that she and her children had disconnected from the outside world, adding that the family would not be able to return to their home.
“Our photos were maliciously published all over. They were describing what they would do to our kids,” she said. “Our kids keep crying. They want to go out and see their friends. They try to ask questions, but at the moment we’re not giving them too many answers.”
She denied that her husband’s shooting of Tekah had any connection to the color of his skin, and said that the family had previously made donations to minority groups.
“I share in his family’s grief, but I must emphasize that all the fuss about his ethnic background — that’s not us,” she said.
She said she hoped the investigation would not be influenced by the turmoil, which has played out in mass protests and clashes with police in cities across Israel since the shooting.
“We believe that the truth will come to light, and we’re getting support from acquaintances, friends and a lot of other people,” she said, adding that her husband hoped to return to his job on the police force.
The officer’s father spoke to Channel 13 news separately on Friday. He claimed his son had happened upon a street robbery while walking with his family.
“They were trying to rob someone of their phone. When my son tried to prevent it and told them to get away, they challenged him and he identified himself as a police officer. But when he did, these people who hate cops, my son immediately got hit with stones,” he said, also speaking without being identified. “My son was there by chance. He tried to prevent a crime and everyone targeted him.
“His life was in danger. He was hurt by rocks in his back, his hands and a few places on his body when he turned around to protect his family. If he hadn’t turned around, his baby lying in a stroller would have been injured,” he said.
“You haven’t looked into who Tekah was, his criminal past,” he charged.
He said his son then called police and that the incident ended before officers arrived on the scene.
He also said the family had been threatened since the incident.
“My son wouldn’t hurt a fly. He tried first of all to protect the civilians that were there, because that’s his job. All these people that are going out and saying nonsense on TV, I feel like choking them,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy for us, it’s been very, very difficult. We’re under security 24/7 because of all these people.”
The investigation into the shooting has so far reportedly corroborated the officer’s version of events.
On Thursday, Channel 12 news reported that Tekah’s DNA was found on a rock recovered from the scene, which could indicate that Tekah threw or at least held the rock prior to being shot, and could strengthen the police officer’s case.
The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has said a probe into Tekah’s death concluded the officer indeed fired at the ground and the bullet apparently ricocheted and struck Tekah.
The report came as Tekah’s father bewailed what he called efforts to clear the officer of responsibility for the killing.
“We have lost trust in the (Justice Ministry’s) Police Internal Investigations Department,” said Worka Tekah at a memorial service for his son Wednesday.
“The writing is on the wall, the officer will be cleared. The results are clear and painful, he won’t be punished and he won’t be tried,” he said.
On Monday, PIID chief Keren Bar Menachem met with the attorneys for Tekah’s family and relatives at the ministry in Jerusalem, where she updated them on the progress in the investigation. The family’s attorneys asked to see the forensic reports and the results of Tekah’s autopsy and were told the request would be taken under consideration and an answer given soon, Hebrew media reported.
Officials are said to be leaning toward charging the man with a disciplinary offense only, rather than manslaughter.