The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court convicted an elite police force commander, Kyril Nazrov, on Monday in the assault of four Eritrean asylum seekers at a bar in south Tel Aviv.
Judge Shaul Avinur said he found that Nazrov's behavior was far from what would be expected of a police officer in a lawful country.
“There is a clear need to repeat, clarify and reiterate that the police must treat every individual with respect, and there is a need to repetitively teach the police that they must not go beyond using whatever force might be necessary in a situation and that it is absolutely prohibited to use any unnecessary force," Avinur wrote in the verdict. It was unclear when or if any punishment would be given.
Nazrov claimed that the four men had assaulted him first, but security cameras at the club that recorded the entire incident showed that Nazrov started attacking people in the club within 12 seconds of entering the premises. He also acted without warning them first that he intended to use force.
The judge described the incident as documented as "rare and unusual."
The indictment, filed in September 2016, says that Nazrov entered the club, located on Hagdud Haivri Street in Tel Aviv, where four Eritreans were sitting around a table, then help their friend close up the place and put the chairs on top of the tables. As he walked into the club, Nazrov ordered the men to leave. He lifted one of them up by the collar and threw him on the floor. As a result of the fall the table where he had been sitting fell on top of him.
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An argument ensued between both sides, and the man who had fallen on the floor started to pick up a chair to throw it at Nazrov, but his friends took him outside. The accused then pushed two of the men toward the door while pummeling their faces with his fists. He continued punching them even once they were all outside the club. Two men suffered facial damage as a result of Nazrov's actions.
Prosecutors charged Nazrov with obstruction of justice, because he lied on the incident report, in writing that he had asked the complainants to leave the club several times and they refused. He also wrote that the men there had been violent toward him and therefore he had used reasonable force against them.
The judge said the incident report was very far from the truth and even referred to it as “false” but he found Nazrov innocent of the obstruction charge.
Nazrov's attorneys, Orit Hayun and Dean Kochavi, welcomed this aspect of the verdict. "We view the verdict as a success," they said. "The court has found the policeman innocent of the most serious crime" of which their client was accused, and took into account evidence brought before him about the risks taken by the elite officers working in the crime-ridden and violent district near the Tel Aviv central bus station. The court referred the issue to the police chief and one may hope that something shall be done about it."
Avinur described the incident as "an opposite world in which the would be suspects are those who behaved in a peaceful and enlightened manor, sitting and talking, while the policeman - the law enforcement agent - enters the club and behaves provocatively and resorts to the use of serious violence, getting into a brawl, and the would-be suspects only tried to protect their faces from the blows and even refrained from cursing."
The verdict goes on to say that the use of force by police is only permissible with three caveats; as a last resort when there's no alternative and only when more moderate means don't bring about the necessary result; the use of force must be limited in time and end immediately once the goal has been achieved, and thirdly, the use of force must be minimal, a police officer must use a minimal amount of force to achieve the necessary goal.
Nazrov and other witnesses for the defense testified that police operations at clubs of this type pose a significant risk to the police who are sometimes attacked by drunks. However, the judge said he found no correlation between the degree of danger claimed by the police and the amount of force that was used.
The judge also wrote that Nazrov's conduct was "shameful." He also noted that the officer had gone in alone "in a place where police see a risk of serious violence, and which may lead one to make an error of judgement."