Israel's Top Court Presses Police Chief on Retention of Accused Sex Offender

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Police Chief Roni Alsheich
Police Chief Roni Alsheich.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The High Court of Justice has ordered Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to explain in detail why he decided keep Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman at his post as head of the Lahav 433 investigations division, despite allegations against Ritman of sexual misconduct. The court also ordered Alsheich to state what if any action he had taken against Ritman.

The court on Sunday gave the commissioner two weeks to submit his response. The demand came after a hearing last week on a petition against Ritman’s continued service as head of Lahav 433. The petition was submitted in May 2016 by a female police officer, identified only as Z., who served under Ritman and complained that he had repeatedly sexually harassed her. In requesting more information on Alsheich’s decision to keep Ritman on, Justice Uzi Fogelman said he and the other members of the bench were “in complete darkness” as to the reasons for it.

There have been two hearings so far on the petition, before six justices. All through the hearings the justices repeatedly asked the reasons for Alsheich’s decision. By law, the court can overturn a decision by the police if it is found to be based on faulty or partial facts.

Alsheich told the court throughout both hearings that he was given two expert opinions on which he based his decision to keep Ritman on as head of Lahav 433. One, by the police legal adviser, stated that because of the gap between Z.’s version of events and Ritman’s, no administrative steps should be taken against Ritman. The other, by the police human resources division, was that Ritman should be summoned for a hearing and Alsheich should consider firing or transferring him.

However, in the hearing last week, the state’s attorney representing Alsheich told the court that the commissioner had in fact been given yet another opinion, by the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct, which recommended indicting Ritman.

The justices then confronted the state’s attorney with previous statements that Alsheich only had two conflicting opinions available to him. To this, the attorney responded that the commissioner told her that “he had all the raw material in the file of the Justice Ministry department dealing with police misconduct and he examined it all fully before making his decision. He spoke with the head of the Justice Ministry department. As for [the latter’s] opinion, he does not recall whether he read it or not.”

Lahav 433 fraud investigation unit commander Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman. August 2014.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The state’s attorney also gave a different version regarding steps Alsheich had taken. Alsheich had previously told the court that he took no steps at all against Ritman. But at Wednesday’s hearing, the state’s attorney said Alsheich had taken a significant step, known as a “guidance interview.” The state’s attorney then submitted the summary of that interview to the court for the first time, a year after the petition was filed.

A “guidance interview” is the least significant step a commander can take in confronting a subordinate officer with his or her misconduct. The officer is told in an interview which mistakes he or she made and is expected to take responsibility for those mistakes at that time.

The state’s attorney did not say which alleged offenses led to the interview or why she was presenting it to the court for the first time only last week. According to the document presented to the court, the interview, which was held in December 2015 and at which only Alsheich and Ritman were present, the commissioner told Ritman he was returning him to his post. He also told Ritman he wanted to clarify procedures, by which “discourse with your subordinates must be dignified and not include statements or contact that could be construed as being sexual in nature.”

Ritman emerged from interview triumphant

According to the document, Ritman thanked the commissioner and said he was looking forward to returning to his post. Shortly after the interview, Ritman texted his subordinates, saying: “I did not exceed, even a little, the proper moral norms in the organization. I intend to continue to lead Lahav 433 to achievements in fulfillment of our mission to the public.”

In Z.’s complaint, filed in November 2011, she said Ritman assaulted her and harassed her at various events. Z. told the Justice Ministry department investigating police misconduct that Ritman had kissed her at a police event. “I smelled alcohol on his breath and I pushed him back.” She also testified that when they were alone in his office he said to her: “If you weren’t my subordinate, what I would do to you.” She said that at a police social event in Eilat he said to her: “Turn around so we can see you wiggle your ass.”

Ritman, Danino and former Public Security Minister Aharonowitz, 2008.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

There were impartial witnesses in two of the three allegations. Former police commissioner Yohanan Danino said Z. told him of the harassment at the time it was happening, but his hands were tied because she had refused to file a complaint.

Z. has been on leave since she filed her complaint.

During the investigation, the police-misconduct department recommended indicting Ritman, but then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to close the case, citing evidentiary difficulties and the long time that had passed since the alleged offenses.

Weinstein passed the decision about Ritman on to Alsheich, who had just become commissioner and who decided to back him. At the time it was reported that Alsheich was considering promoting Ritman to district commander.

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