Cop Who Shot Ethiopian Israeli Teen to Be Charged With Negligent Homicide

This summer, the country was rocked by nationwide protests – which police expect will now resume – after an off-duty officer shot and killed 18-year-old Solomon Teka

Woreka and Wbjig Teka hold a picture of their son Solomon Tekah, 19, who was killed by an off duty police officer, on July 3, 2019.
MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

The police officer suspected of shooting and killing Ethiopian Israeli teen Solomon Teka will be charged with negligent homicide, the Justice Ministry unit responsible for investigating police officers (called in Hebrew Mahash) announced on Tuesday.

The crime has a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The police officer is entitled to a hearing before the indictment is filed. 

Keren Bar-Menachem, the head of the unit in charge of investigating the police, met with Teka’s family and informed them of the decision. About 10 activists from the Ethiopian community protested the decision in front of the offices of the Justice Ministry unit in Jerusalem.

Teka, an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in Kiryat Haim, a suburb of Haifa, at the end of June. 

Solomon Teka who was shot dead by an off-duty police officer in northern Israel.

Members of Teka's family expressed their displeasure at the decision to charge the officer with negligent homicide rather than a more serious offense.

"My son was murdered in cold blood," Teka's father, Worka, said, adding that the decision would prompt more intense protest "and could have many consequences."

Speaking outside the Justice Ministry, Worka Teka said his family does not believe that justice has been served or that the case has been properly handled. "The fight and the will to get justice will continue. We won't give up. We will continue to fight by legal means." Referring to what he called "biased" statements in the media by the Justice Ministry police misconduct unit, he said they "hurt me and my children."

Solomon Teka's sister Yami said the Justice Ministry's decision would "permit other police to draw a gun and continue killing our brothers." She also complained that media coverage made her brother appear "ugly."  

Protesters blocking roads in southern Israel in protest over police shooting of Ethiopian Israeli teen Solomon Teka, July 2, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

The dead man's mother, Wbjig, alleged that the police investigation unit was committing a cover-up. "We just want the truth," she said.

Last month, Haaretz reported that Mahash had recommended indicting the police officer involved with reckless homicide, after they reached the conclusion that the officer had no real reason to draw his gun and fire – even though Teka had physically confronted the policeman and threw rocks at him, sources involved in the investigation said.

But because of the legal difficulty to completely rule out the policeman’s version of the events, the prosecution leaned toward an indictment on a lesser charge of negligent homicide, a crime with a maximum sentence of  three years, instead of a 12-year maximum for reckless manslaughter, law enforcement sources noted at the time.

The possibility of charging the officer with other crimes, such as negligent use of a weapon or taking rash action, was also considered. The maximum sentence for the weapons charge is three years in prison.

Law enforcement officials said that the case is especially complex because the police officer felt his life was in danger, and because he only fired at the ground and the bullet ricocheted and hit Teka in the chest.

Mahash investigators conducted their own questioning of witnesses who had been questioned at the beginning of the case and requested additional material from other entities involved in the investigation. 

The police officer was questioned twice more near the end of the investigation and repeated his version of the events. Investigators found that the police officer unloaded his pistol immediately after he fired. 

He and his family are still receiving protection because of threats against them, which have been assessed to be at the highest threat level. He is still on forced leave from the police.