Off-duty Police Officer Shoots Dead Ethiopian Israeli Teen in Northern Israel

Police officer released to house arrest ■ Police claim officer was attacked while trying to separate quarreling youth ■ Eyewitness says officer threatened teens with gun

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

An 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent was shot to death by an off-duty police officer in Kiryat Haim, a suburb of Haifa, on Sunday.

The Police Investigations Department arrested overnight Sunday the police officer who shot dead Solomon Teka. The police officer, 33, who is suspected of manslaughter and was brought before a Haifa Magistrate’s Court judge to extend his remand, was released to house arrest until July 15. 

The officer was defined by the police as being at "the highest level of risk." As a result, he will be placed under police protection in a hotel in central Israel and is later expected to be transferred to an apartment police guarded by the police.

In addition, security systems will be installed in his home.

Due to concern for his safety, a gag order barring the publication of the officer's name was issued.     

Police officers at the scene of the shooting, Kiryat Haim, June 30, 2019.
Rami Shllush

Israel Police said that the officer was not on duty at the time and was trying to separate two youths who were quarreling while he was at a playground with his wife and children.

An eye witness claimed that the officer was the one who instigated the incident, threatening the youths with his weapon.

"After he identified himself as a police officer, the youths started throwing stones at him," the police said. "The officer, who claims that he feared for his life, opened fire, and the circumstances are under investigation."

Eli, another eyewitness that was present at the scene of the shooting, told Haaretz that "The police officer wasn't in a life-threatening situation. He assumed a firing position and shot Solomon who was at least 30 meters away from him."

A youth instructor in a shelter near the scene of the shooting, Eli said that several minutes after Teka left the premises, "I saw a stone thrown at us, hitting a vehicle parking near us. Several minutes later I saw the man who shot [Teka]. I heard shouting and cursing and then he assumed a shooting position and fired while shouting.

"At this point, I didn't see Solomon or the other teens who were with him, but it was evident that they didn't engage in any fight with the police officer. From where I was standing I saw he didn't aim at their legs, Solomon was shot in his chest," Eli said.  

The youth instructor said he was in shock and called an ambulance. "The police arrived after two minutes. One of the other youth instructors attempted to resuscitate Solomon and I saw the cop who shot him hovering over the body and walking among us, talking on the phone as nothing had happened. The police officer wasn't wounded when he fired, and in case he was, he managed to cover it pretty good."

The officer was injured and taken to the hospital, the police statement said. A source familiar with the details of the investigation said that the officer saw the youths hitting a younger boy, and while he was trying to separate them he revealed that he was a police officer.

Several people have been demonstrating in front of the Zevulun police station where the police officer was taken for questioning in protest of the shooting. The demonstrators shouted "A violent cop must be behind bars," and "Black or white, we are all flesh and blood," and said Teka was shot becuase of his Ethiopian origin.  

The enraged demonstrators refused to speak to reporters, calling them "white press." 

The police officer's attorney, Yair Nadshi, said his client was released overnight from the hospital.

"I met my client at around 3:00 A.M. He claims the shooting was carried out as means of self-defense after he was brutally attacked," Nadshi said.  

The father of a 15-year-old boy who witnessed the incident said that while he doesn't know the victim personally, he knows that he lives in the area. "My son saw his friend die in front of his eyes, he was the one who called the ambulance," he said.

"[The officer] asked 'what are you doing here,' and they told him 'go away.' He took out his gun and told them 'empty out your pockets.'" He added that his son told him that the youths attempted to flee, at which point the officer aimed his weapon at them. "He took out his gun and aimed at my son. He ducked behind a car and wasn't hit, and another kid was shot."

Magen David Adom paramedics administered medical treatment at the site and evacuated the teen in critical condition to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa while administering CPR. He was declared dead at the hospital.

"When I arrived there I saw the wounded lying in the middle of the street, unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing," a Magen David Adom paramedic said. "I administered first aid, including chest compressions and attempting to stop the bleeding, and he was quickly taken to Rambam Medical Center in an ambulance in critical condition."

Haifa's mayor, Dr. Einat Kalisch Rotem, said that she is "shocked" by the shooting. She said that the city's municipality is accompanying and supporting the family, the community and the educational institutions. "A team of psychologists, welfare specialists and educators are present at support centers, and meeting with students and youth in schools and community centers," she said. "I embrace the family and extend my condolences."       

In January, thousands of demonstrators came out to central Tel Aviv to protest police violence against Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Several protesters clashed with police at the end of the event.

The demonstration was triggered by an incident in which police shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, a mentally ill Ethiopian-Israeli. But organizers say that was merely the latest in a long list of cases of police violence, particularly aimed at Ethiopian Jews.

In May, Israel Police announced it had closed the case against the policeman who shot and killed Biadga.