Internal Report Shows Haifa Police Negligence in Detainee's Jail Suicide

Report recommends that six policemen face disciplinary proceedings; Israel's Justice Ministry could soon announce criminal proceedings.

At 3 p.m. one day in early January, police received a report of a man attempting suicide on the roof of a building in the Hadar neighborhood in the center of Haifa. The police and rescue squad arrived and eventually managed to calm him down and subdue him. The story seemed to have a successful ending, except in this case the potential suicide victim was taken in for questioning, arrested and due to police negligence succeeded in killing himself in jail that night.

Why did police lock up someone who had just revealed his suicidal tendencies and psychological problems? When they searched him after subduing him, police found he was carrying a knife and arrested him for illegal possession of a weapon, taking him to Haifa police station. After a preliminary interrogation he was sent by the duty officer, Superintendent Itzik Ben Yishai, for a psychiatric examination and medical treatment for the injuries he sustained. Ben Yishai made no mention of the danger of suicide on the arrest sheet.

The duty psychiatrist examined him and determined there "is a potential suicide risk with no evidence of an immediate danger, and it is recommended he be placed under arrest with increased surveillance and should be brought as soon as possible before a judge with a recommendation to consider sending him for a legal psychiatric examination," wrote the psychiatrist.

The man who committed suicide was Michael Chukolomin, 39, from Haifa. In recent years he lived with his dog in a rented apartment in the city's central Carmel neighborhood. He worked occasionally at various jobs and collected unemployment, which he lived on. His parents said he called them when he climbed on the building and asked them to call the police and tell them he wanted to live. He had no criminal record. His family blames the suicide on his heavy debts and mental distress.

Since the suicide, his parents, Marat and Galina, come to the Haifa Magistrate's Court every couple of months or so in the hope that the details of the police's negligence will be exposed. The court is conducting an official investigation into the cause of death, but the investigation is now waiting for the results of a separate investigation conducted by the Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers.

The investigation process has been going on for nine months, since the suicide on January 9, but recently Haaretz obtained a copy of an internal police report on the police's failures and what happened that day.

Chukolomin was taken from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa at 2 a.m. after his examination and treatment, and put in the holding cells in the Haifa police station by the two policemen on the night watch there. Holding someone under arrest requires the approval of a chief superintendent or the head of the patrol department, but no one asked for any such approval.

After conducting a search on Chukolomin's body and taking away his shoelaces, he was placed in cell 7, which had a camera for watching prisoners who needed supervision. But the jail records show he was checked on only once an hour, despite the psychiatrist's instructions - and the regulations requiring more strict supervision.

At 6:30 A.M. the shifts changed, Chukolomin was checked, and at 8 A.M. and 9:10 A.M. the cameras failed to find any signs of motion in the cell. Senior Staff Sgt. Maj. Michael Cohen, who was in charge of the morning shift, later said he was busy with the new prisoners coming in and wasn't able to properly keep an eye on Chukolomin - and despite regulations, he did not ask for any backup. At 1 P.M. they discovered Chukolomin had hanged himself using the cord from his sweatpants, which he attached to the top rung of the ladder of the bunk beds in his cell.

Superintendent Ofer Shimler, the commander of the jail in the police station for the past five years, called the entire affair a failure. Shimler said he did not know there was a prisoner who required special supervision, and in the morning when he arrived at work he went about business as usual, and did not ask if anything out of the ordinary had taken place during the previous shift.

The police report recommended that six policemen face disciplinary proceedings. Shimler was removed from his post. The Justice Ministry could recommend criminal proceedings, and the decision will be announced soon.

The police officer investigating the suicide and who wrote the internal report refused to comment, saying only: "After the regrettable event and its tragic results, an investigation was opened by the Justice Ministry to clarify the matter."