Former Jerusalem police chief Niso Shaham’s acquittal on charges of sexual harassment, fraud and breach of trust was overturned on Monday.
The Tel Aviv District Court also upheld the one charge on which the lower court convicted him – indecent assault.
In her verdict, Judge Miriam Diskin said Shaham’s relationships with junior policewomen “undermined the public’s trust” in the police.
“Creating liaisons with junior policewomen to satisfy his sexual desires became routine for him,” she wrote. “This isn’t morally flawed behavior, but criminal behavior.”
The case was sent back to the magistrate’s court for sentencing. But in his concurring opinion, Judge Mordechay Levy said the sentence must be one “that will deter” such behavior.
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“The public interest is clear – for every mother and father who send their daughters to serve in one of the security services to know that their daughters won’t be sexually harassed by their commanders, and that the commanders won’t abuse their authority in order to have intimate relations with them, as Shaham did,” he wrote. He added that this was especially important for women doing their compulsory military service in the police, as were some of the women Shaham was convicted of harassing.
Shaham’s attorneys, Boaz Ben Zur and Dikla Sirkis, said in a statement that the verdict was “a legal mistake” and they would seek to appeal it to the Supreme Court. Even the prosecution said Shaham’s relationships with the policewomen were consensual, they said, and two policewomen even sued the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct over the way they were questioned. “But for some reason, their clear voices weren’t heard in the district court,” the statement added.
Ben Zur added that the verdict “clearly ignores” the lower court proceedings, and its approach “seems detached from the evidence, paternalistic and unacceptable.”
Prosecutor Naomi Granot, who appealed the initial verdict, said she hoped its reversal would convince officers to stop exploiting their positions.
Shaham was charged with eight counts of misconduct involving junior policewomen, including charges of fraud and breach of trust over five policewomen about whom he made job-related decisions despite having affairs with them. But the magistrate’s court convicted him only of one count of indecent assault and sentenced him to 240 hours of community service.
In January, Granot appealed, arguing that the lower court had ignored Shaham’s pattern of behavior and the way his conduct undermined trust in the police. Shaham also “severely undermined policewomen’s equality of opportunity at work” and betrayed his responsibilities to his subordinates, the appeal said.
During the appeal, Shaham charged that the judges “don’t want to know the truth” after they limited the time allotted for the defense’s arguments.
Following the hearing, the three judges – Diskin, Levy and Gilya Ravid – proposed a plea bargain under which Shaham would confess to fraud and breach of trust, the prosecution would withdraw its appeal of his sexual harassment acquittal and Shaham would be sentenced to community service. But Shaham refused.
One former senior police officer accused the prosecution of discriminating against Shaham and engaging in selective enforcement. Though it didn’t initially argue that Shaham exploited his authority over the policewomen, it did make this argument during the appeal.
But Levy said during the April hearing on the appeal that the policewomen’s testimony that he hadn’t exploited his authority was irrelevant, because given his position of power over them, “their consent wasn’t [real] consent.” Diskin added that the crime of breach of trust doesn’t depend on what the policewomen thought.
Last month, the prosecution criticized the two policewomen who sued the Justice Ministry over what they deemed humiliating questioning about Shaham’s conduct. “Their interrogation was complicated, in part because the plaintiffs chose to respond with partial and sometimes vague answers to the questions they were asked, in complete defiance of what is expected of policewomen asked to give testimony in an investigation,” it said in a statement.
That suit, filed in the Central District Court last year, seeks 3 million shekels ($850,000) in damages. The suit said the policewomen were asked questions about “their sexual habits and their sexual satisfaction” and subjected to “harsh, humiliating comments.” This “trampled their dignity into the dust,” it added, and the investigators thereby “abused the power of their position and exploited the plaintiffs’ situation.”
The court recently proposed mediation, but required the plaintiffs to pay half the cost – 12,000 shekels – themselves. The prosecution is willing to compensate them, but only on condition that they waive their demand for a criminal probe against the investigators who questioned them.