Court Doubles Prison Term for Policeman Who Killed Car Thief

Top cop backs officer after sentence upped to 30 months.

The Supreme Court doubled the sentence yesterday of a police officer convicted of manslaughter, after they said they considered the original prison term of 15 months too lenient.

Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled the Haifa District Court which sentenced Shahar Mizrahi was wrong in overemphasizing personal problems the defendant was facing, and downplaying the victim, his life and the deterrent impact of the case.

Mizrahi said the court didn't consider his side, though, before handing down the 30-month sentence.

"It is necessary to have faith in the value judgment of a policeman who was trained and accumulated experiences of situations he deals with in the field," Mizrahi told Haaretz yesterday. "The court examined the situation in theory, in lab conditions ... without trusting the value judgment of an experienced police officer. Theory and reality will never be the same. Why should a policeman be in a situation in which only if he is seriously injured is there support for his right to protect his life?"

Mizrahi was convicted last year of manslaughter, after shooting Israeli-Arab Mahmoud Ganaim to death. The District Court rejected his claim that he shot Ganaim, who was allegedly stealing a car at the time, in self defense.

"We do not accept Mizrahi's claim, a skilled officer, that he felt his life was genuinely threatened by Ganaim, who clearly tried to flee the incident. In view of the circumstances and the options available to Mizrahi, there is also no cause to accept his claim that he made an honest mistake about there being such a threat," Beinisch said.

Police Commissioner David Cohen said yesterday that he respects the court's ruling but stressed that the police will continue backing Mizrahi.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch also expressed support for Mizrahi.

"Decisions made during operations are measured in a fraction of a second, and sometimes the crime fighters don't have time to think about their actions or precisely evaluate risks," he said.

Shimon Cohen, who was Mizrahi's commander, said yesterday that "this is a difficult day for the family and the police. The Northern Command and its officers will continue supporting the family of the officer, also in the future, as it has done to date."

The family of the victim described the court's decision yesterday as a positive development, but said they were still dissatisfied that it was too lenient for someone who had killed a man.