The police officer charged with negligent homicide in the shooting death of 18-year-old Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Teka in June 2019 would not return to the force, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told Teka's family on Friday, following public outrage over the initial decision.
Police sources told Haaretz the officer was reinstated at the order of the new commander of the police’s Coastal District, Maj. Gen. Yoram Sofer. The sources said the controversial decision came as a surprise to Israel’s top cop, who only heard about it on Thursday it in media reports.
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Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and his deputy, Gadi Yevarkan, were both invovled in the decision, but later distanced themselves from it.
Sofer does not hold the authority to make the decision to reinstate the officer, who has been on forced leave since the deadly incident, sources told Haaretz.
Despite this, Sofer, who started his new post this week, summoned the officer for an interview and informed him of his decision to return him to operational duty. The officer was set to serve in an operational role in a police station in northern Israel, but has since been offered a role in the Fire and Rescue Service.
His trial is in the evidentiary stage and witnesses involved in the affair are now testifying, and the police officer is expected to testify in his own defense.
Shabtai, who met with the Teka's family on Friday in a Haifa police station, assured them that the officer in question would not return to the force, and would instead be reassigned to the Fire and Rescue Service as the officer responsible for the agency's contact with police.
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Ohana, whose ministry oversees the work of Israel Police, said following Sofer’s decision to reinstate the cop that his deputy Yevarkan – who was born in Ethiopia – will work together with ministry officials to find the “best way forward.”
Teka’s family said anti-police protests would be renewed if the decision is made to reinstate the policeman. “It cannot be that the Israel Police will forsake the lives of Ethiopian Israelis by bestowing a gift upon the accused (police officer) when they should be locked behind bars,” they said. The family accused Minister Ohana and Deputy Minister Yevarkan, both of the ruling Likud party, of being behind “this scandal, and the spitting in the face of an entire community.”
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is also Ethiopian-born, spoke out against the decision: “This move is forsaking the life of Solomon Teka, of blessed memory, a second time. Something here is rotten – police violence and profiling are not being dealt with at all. All we are waiting for now is for youths of Ethiopian origin to be investigated by that same policeman.”
The 2019 incident occurred when the officer fired at the ground near Teka in Kiryat Haim neighborhood of Haifa in the north. According to the indictment, the officer fired in the direction of Teka and a number of friends in a public park, after they threw rocks at the officer and his family. The officer is charged with negligence and not following proper procedure when he fired at the asphalt covering the ground, which caused the bullet to ricochet and hit Teka – who died from his wounds – instead of firing in the air or at the nearby sandy ground.
Even though the investigation into the incident found an evidentiary foundation to charge the officer with involuntary manslaughter, a crime with a maximum punishment of 12 years in prison, the Justice Ministry unit responsible for investigating police officers accepted the officer’s version of events that he felt his life was at risk, and instead charged him with negligent homicide, a lesser crime.
Teka’s death led to widespread protests against police violence, where demonstrators turned out in the thousands across the country. During the protests, violent confrontations occurred between police and emonstrators. Police arrested 200 suspects, for charges including suspicion of assaulting police officers and rioting.