Cries of Police Brutality Fly After Drug Raid on Family of U.S. Immigrants in Israel

Police showed up at Jay Engelmayer’s home in the quiet town of Modi’in looking for pot. They found none; and what followed, he says, was a nightmare of abuse for his entire family.

Police raid Arara, the hometown of Neshat Melhem, the suspected gunmen behind the Tel Aviv terror attack, who was killed Friday after a week-long manhunt. January 10, 2016.
Gil Eliahu

The sleepy city of Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut is the kind of place where police activity usually amounts to searching for bike thieves or warning residents that it’s time to turn down the music at their disco-themed 40th birthday party barbecue because it’s near midnight.

This all changed recently though, when three plainclothes police officers showed up at a family home here, at 6 A.M., warrant in hand, to make a major drug bust in the city – or so they thought.

Longtime Modi’in resident, Jay Engelmayer, 43, and his wife Annie Eisen, 42 who made aliyah to Israel a decade ago from New York say police barged into their home on Monday, tore it apart and proceeded to physically and emotionally abuse them and their four children, ages 13 through 19. 

“The Israel Police overstepped their bounds and turned our lives upside down,” Engelmayer wrote in his blog in the Times of Israel. Engelmayer works for a big online store for prescription eyeglasses, while Eisen is director of international relations at the Rabin Center.

According to Engelmayer, the police found nary a bong nor even a piece of rolling paper - not to mention any drugs - in the home. They did, however, he says, strip search him and then haul him, together with his 14-year-old daughter, to the police station where they remained for 12 hours. When Engelmayer spoke to his daughter in the police car – disobeying a police order to stay quiet, he says one of the policemen slapped him. At the station, Engelmayer’s phones and computers were confiscated; he was put in leg and arm shackles and was not allowed to see his daughter or to speak to a lawyer for hours. 
 
Outside the station, another of the family’s daughters, who had come to beg the police to talk to the family lawyer, was shoved to the ground, says Eisen, who was also outside the station.  Two of the family’s four children, along with both parents, were eventually “booked and processed - without ever seeing a judge. Our DNA, fingerprints and pictures were taken and entered into the Israel Police database,” writes Engelmayer. “Meet Family Engelmayer, the Corleone’s of Israel.” Engelmayer and his family members were eventually released to a five-day house arrest.

Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, responded to queries by saying he could not share details about the case because an investigation was still underway. He did stress however that the raid was part of an “ongoing drug investigation among teenagers.”

Rosenfeld added that “during the investigation, police searched the suspect's house based on a court order. The suspect was present at the search and signed at the conclusion that there was no damage to property or harm to the person.”

Engelmayer claims he only signed a document, in the police station, some eight hours after he was arrested, at 3 P.M., and only when he was threatened that his whole family would be put in jail if he refused.

Neighbors, who use words as “wonderful,” “lovely,” “kind” and, especially, “decent” while describing the Engelmayers, are “up in arms,” as one put it, about the way the family was treated. “Everyone is talking about it. If this can happen to them it can happen to any of us,” said one neighbor who asked not to be identified. “Of course we hear of Palestinians and Arabs who are subjected to police brutality all the time,” she continued. “but that seems like it’s in another world. This is Modi’in.”
  
“Usually if you try to get the police to do anything in this place, they don’t even show up,” she said.

Engelmayer says that he can understand why and how the police “might have thought we were involved in drugs.” He himself, he freely admits, smokes marijuana, although, he claims, he does not do so in Israel, but rather on his frequent trips back to the U.S., and even then, typically only on weekends, “like having a scotch to wind down,” as he puts it.

He may have been a “pot head,” in college, he continues, but he never did, nor does he now sell or grow marijuana. “I do not even have a dealer in Israel,” he says. “I never even looked for one.” His children, who, Engelmayer claims, do not use drugs at all, know that he does smoke. “We are a very open family,” he says.

The real problem – or misunderstanding – as Engelmayer puts it – and pay attention parents here - can be traced to something that happened about a year and a half ago when his daughter – 12 and a half at the time – was texting with an older friend. “This guy, who I don’t even know, asked her something like ‘Where can I buy pot?’” recounts Engelmayer.

His daughter (“I was kidding dad!” she told him later) responded with a message along the lines of: “Sure I do. Come to my house: My dad has a forest full in the backyard.” Her text, notes Englemayer, included several “LOLs” (which stands for “laughing out loud”) and half a dozen smiley faces.

“I don’t know how to grow anything!” claims Engelmayer. “I am from Manhattan. We don’t grow anything there.”

Getting serious, he says he can understand how the police – who also interviewed the friend of his daughter who sent the text asking about buying drugs - might have thought he and his family had something to do with selling marijuana. But still, he says, nothing can explain or excuse the way he and his family were treated. Engelmayer plans to file a complaint with the police over their actions.

At one point during the investigation at the station, Engelmayer says, one of the officers told him that they knew “a lot” about his children and what they were up to. They said, according to Engelmayer, that they knew his eldest daughter, a 19-year-old soldier “dresses in miniskirts and walks around the mall like a whore.” Actually, his daughter, says Engelmayer - a vegan and a star athlete on the national cycling team who wakes up at 5 A.M. to train - usually “makes herself an omelet out of hummus at night and is in bed by 8 P.M., and is not walking about anywhere.”

“I realized then, that they had nothing on me,” he says. “They were so wrong that they were turning desperate.”

Eisen, who has not returned to work since the incident, says she is traumatized. “I was always taught to respect authority. And, despite all the stories over the years about police corruption and brutality - I always thought they were probably doing their best I don’t think that anymore.” 
 
“How do you teach your kids to live civilly, when they see our civil liberties being robbed like this?” she asks. “I don’t even want to think what would have happened if my skin were darker,” adds Engelmayer. “Or if I were of another religion.”