Cop Who Killed Ethiopian Israeli Teen Justifies Not Shooting in the Air

Sources involved in probe say there haven't been unequivocal findings to support the officer's version of events ■ Shooting sparked three days of nationwide protest

Solomon Teka's relatives at his funeral near Haifa, June 30, 2019.
AFP

The police officer suspected of fatally shooting an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent told investigators that he did not fire in the air because he was in the middle of a residential neighborhood, explaining that instead he fired at the ground as to not harm others.

The officer, who was off-duty at the time, told the investigators in the Justice Ministry unit that probes police conduct that he fired a bullet at the ground, which then ricocheted and hit Solomon Teka. However, there has not been unequivocal findings to support this version.

Ethiopian Israelis protesting police shooting of Solomon TekaHaaretz

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Following the shooting in the Kiryat Haim suburb of Haifa, thousands throughout Israel took to the streets to protest against police brutality and racism toward Jews of Ethiopian descent. 136 arrests were made and 111 policemen were injured. Teka's family has called for people to refrain from protesting during the traditional Jewish seven-day mourning period.

The officer, 33, said he was at the park with his wife and children when, according to him, he separated Teka and his friends who had attacked a 13-year-old. The officer says that he then returned to his family – but Teka and his friends began to throw rocks at them. The officer, identified only as B., said he then chased after them and fired at the ground.

B. said that he felt his life was in danger and feared for the safety of his family too. According to his statement, one of the rocks hit him in the shoulder and another hit him in the head. B. was asked a number of times why he drew his pistol, cocked it and fired – and why he did not fire in the air. B. repeated his version of events and said that because he was in an area surrounded by buildings and houses, he did not want to fire in the air and instead fired at the ground. He did not intend to kill Teka, B. said.

One of the possibilities under investigation is that the bullet struck a wall or fence near Teka and then ricocheted off into Teka’s torso. Nonetheless, investigators are not ruling out the option that the shooting could have also been a direct hit.

The officer called the police both before and after he fired, a person close to B. said – but the Justice Ministry investigators have declined to confirm the details. B.’s gun was sent to the police’s forensic labs in the national headquarters in Jerusalem.

“Significant gaps” exist in the officer’s version and investigators are waiting for a report from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir in Tel Aviv, an official involved in the investigation told Haaretz.

The officer's attorney said his client regretted "the tragic results of this incident" and that he had fired at the ground to avoid endangering local residents. "It's unrelated to skin color," the lawyer said., adding that the victim was "equipped with stones."

One of the main difficulties the Justice Ministry investigators are facing is a lack of willingness on the part of the eyewitnesses, as well as Teka’s friends, to cooperate with investigators.

A youth counselor who was working close to the scene of the shooting told police that as he witnessed it, there was no danger to the officer’s life that could have prompted him to open fire. “He prepared to shoot and fired a single bullet when Solomon was at least 30 meters away from him. From where I was standing [I saw] he wasn’t shooting toward his legs but was really aiming straight at him.”

According to the counselor, after Teka was shot, "one of the other counselors tried to resuscitate him and I saw the officer hovering over the body and walking among us, talking on the phone as nothing had happened. The police officer wasn't wounded when he fired, and if he was, he managed to cover it up pretty well. He wasn't in a life-threatening condition and his children were not around, the street was empty.

A law enforcement official told Haaretz that B. is likely to be indicted due to the fact that there was no justification for the shooting. The offenses that B. could be charged with range from negligent homicide to manslaughter. B.’s claims that he felt his life was in real danger, requiring him to use his weapon, are not believable considering the circumstances of the incident, said the official.

For now, the officer is currently in the center of the country and being closely monitored by security officials due to intelligence information on intentions to harm him and his family.