The police officer who shot and killed Ethiopian youth Solomon Tekah, age 19, in a Kiryat Haim park in the summer of 2019, was indicted last Thursday for negligent homicide and will not return to the force until the end of his trial, according to Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai. The move came after an initial announcement that the officer would return to active duty on the police force was met with public outrage. 

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The possibility of the policeman working on a temporary basis for the fire and rescue department was raised in recent weeks.  

"I seriously considered the decision to return him to active service as a police officer, and found it more appropriate for him to work for the fire and rescue system until the end of the pending legal proceedings,” said Shabtai. "The decision will help support the police department, while also being attentive to the feelings of the public.”

But Civil Service Commissioner, Daniel Hershkowitz, retracted the decision and called for "high moral norms and public responsibility."  It remains unclear for now whether and where the officer will return to work.

Solomon Tekah z”l. (Photo courtesy of the family)

 

Negligent homicide

Last Thursday, the Police Investigations Department filed an indictment against the officer, a resident of Kiryat Haim, for causing Tekah’s death by negligent homicide in June 2019.

Tekah’s death sparked widespread protest over the summer of 2019 against police brutality affecting  Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel.

A memorial event in Kiryat Haim to mark a year since Tekah’s death and all victims of police brutality. (Photo: Gilad Shrem)

Many details of the shooting are disputed. According to the indictment, the officer was off-duty and visiting a public park with his family when Tekah and a group of other boys approached. The officer suspected the boys of robbing another person in the park, so he identified himself as an officer and began questioning them. In response, they teased him.

As he began to move away from the scene, the boys chased him and began throwing stones that injured him. Feeling him and his family were in danger, the policeman loaded his gun and fired a bullet at the asphalt. The bullet split, penetrated Tekah's armpit and hit his chest and lungs. He collapsed and died of his wounds at the scene despite resuscitation efforts.

According to the prosecutor's office, "The shooting was negligent because the officer fired at the pavement, and did not limit himself, at most, to firing warning shots into the air to neutralize the danger he faced. The court’s decision took into account the fact that the defendant was at the scene with his family, was attacked and injured with stones before using his pistol." 

"This is an unfortunate and tragic incident, I share the family's grief over their loss,” Shabtai said in a meeting with Solomon Tekah’s family and Yabarkan.

Commissioner Shabtai made the decision to return the officer to service in the fire and rescue department with the consent of the officer. 

Commissioner Shabtai met with the officer and his family to inform him personally of his decision.

In his conversation with the officer, the commissioner said: "It was important for me to come to you in person and inform you of my decision, after much deliberation and thought. I know that you and your family are going through a difficult and complex period since the tragic incident, and I want to give you strength. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the Fire and Rescue Commissioner, Dedi Simchi, who agreed to my request to add you to the fire brigade until the end of the legal proceedings in your case."

Before the commissioner's decision, the Minister of Immigration and Absorption, Pnina Tamano-Shata, asked Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana to intervene and prevent the officer from returning to active service. A criminal trial is still underway, although the internal police investigation was completed last week.