An Ethiopian-Israeli who was assaulted by police near a Haifa nightclub in 2012 this week sued both the police and the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct.
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In his suit, Jajao Bimaro accused the latter agency of negligence in handling his complaint against the police, which resulted in the case being closed due to lack of evidence. He also accused both the policeman who assaulted him and the officials who dealt with his complaint of racist attitudes toward Ethiopian-Israelis. He is seeking 250,000 shekels ($64,00) in compensation.
The incident occurred on April 7, 2012. Bimaro, then a soldier doing his compulsory service in a combat unit, had gone to the Natanzon nightclub in Haifa with some friends. When they left the nightclub, a brawl was taking place at a kiosk across the street.
According to Bimaro’s subsequent description of what happened, a policeman summoned to the site assaulted a young woman who was standing there, kicking her until she fell and threatening to stun her with his Taser. Several of those present filmed the assault, at which point the policeman began spraying them with pepper gas.
“As I was standing there, dumbfounded by what I was seeing with my own eyes, the policeman decided that I, too, was a party to the ‘crime,’” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The policeman sprayed me with pepper gas right in the eyes, for no reason whatsoever and without any provocation on my part. Afterward, while I was suffering from total blindness that lasted several minutes, he used his stun gun on me, with no warning and no need.”
The Taser was used directly against his sternum, leaving him with marks on his body, he added.
After the Taser sent him toppling to the ground, Bimaro continued, the policeman began shouting racist insults and curses at him, including “Go back to Africa!”
“Believe me, no amount of pepper spray or electricity in the world, however powerful, could hurt me like that sentence hurt me,” he wrote.
One week after the incident, Bimaro complained to the Justice Ministry about the policeman’s behavior. But the ministry initially did nothing to investigate the complaint, the lawsuit charged. It began investigating only about three months later, when he published his account of the incident on his Facebook page and the media picked up the story.
By that time, however, footage of the brawl taken by nearby security cameras was no longer available, and neither were police records of the incident, which were kept for only about six weeks. Thus, about six months after the incident occurred, the Justice Ministry closed the case for lack of evidence.
“It’s hard to avoid the impression that Mr. Bimaro was treated negligently because of his ethnicity and skin color,” charged his attorney, Eviatar Knoller, adding that the ministry’s conduct “should keep every Israeli citizen awake at night.”
The Justice Ministry said that, contrary to Bimaro’s claims, its investigators went to the scene of the incident the day after his complaint was filed to collect evidence and interview witnesses. It said it collected a great deal of evidence, including physical evidence and testimony from uninvolved witnesses, which showed “that the reality was more complicated that his description, and therefore, there was no evidentiary basis for putting the policeman on trial.”
Specifically, it said, the evidence indicated that Bimaro “was injured by the [pepper] spray and Taser while one of the people who participated in the brawl was being arrested.” Moreover, he was apparently stunned only once, it said; there was no evidence to support his claim that the policeman shocked him with the Taser five times.
The ministry also noted that Bimaro had appealed its decision to close the case, but the deputy state prosecutor rejected his appeal.