The family of an Ethiopian Israeli teen shot dead by an off-duty police officer last month accused law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation into his death of defaming him, after his death led to a wave of nation-wide demonstrations protesting police brutality and racial profiling.
"They’re killing my son a second time," said Solomon Teka’s father, Worka, at a press conference on Thursday, referring to reports the family deems inappropriate and may infringe on Teka's privacy or the integrity of the investigation.
He cited a Channel 12 News report the day before, which said traces of drugs and alcohol were found in Teka’s blood, somehow insinuating this may have caused him to be more violent in his encounter with the officer, who claimed he feared for his life. Teka also cited a Channel 13 interview with a top forensic expert, in which he revealed information about Teka’s autopsy.
In a rare move, Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit issued a statement saying the interview “has not been approved by law enforcement officials, and the same goes for any unauthorized report about materials from the investigatio," and vowed to look into leaks from the high-profile investigation.
>> Read more: Ethiopian Israelis are furious at 'white media' coverage of protests, and for a good reason | Analysis ■ Why did they shoot him? | Editorial
In his interview, Dr. Chen Kugel, head of the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine said the autopsy findings supported the officer’s account that Teka was killed by a bullet that ricocheted. “It is 99.9-percent certain that the bullet hit the ground. Part of it remained there, and the other part entered Teka’s body,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, the Justice Ministry's police investigations department turned down the family’s request to review investigative material before a decision is made on how to proceed. “After the decision is made, the family may ask to obtain the investigative material and the request will be considered on the basis of the relevant directives,” the ministry said in a statement.
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Teka’s father told reporters at Bar-Ilan University, "Solomon’s death extinguished the hope that we had. We had hoped that law enforcement authorities would investigate and get to the truth, but instead we see defamation. Have you no compassion? Have you no mercy? How can you be so cruel to people like me? How can you desecrate the name of someone who is buried in the ground and cannot defend and clear his name?”
His sister said the family lost trust in the authorities handling the investigation, adding, "An entire country is committing character assassination of my brother, painting him as a monster," while the father called for the remainder of the investigation into his son's death "to be conducted in an unbiased manner."
Lawyer Jack Chen, who represents the Teka family, slammed a "well-orchestrated campaign" intended to sway public opinion in the suspected police officer's favor, denying "information about drugs and alcohol" and concluding: "There is no reason to shoot an 18-year-old boy."
On Tuesady, Israel Police said the off-duty police officer involved in the June 30 incident has been put on forced leave for a month, a day after the charges against him were reduced to reckless homicide.
The officer, whose name has not been made public, was released from house arrest on Monday, as it became clear he would not be charged with a more serious crime of manslaughter.
The maximum penalty for reckless homicide is 12 years in prison.
The law defines the reckless element cited in the new category as “taking an unreasonable risk” that could lead to causing a death, “based on a desire to somehow prevent that outcome.” The difference between it and negligent homicide lies in criminal thinking – i.e., awareness of the possibility that death could ensue, but acting based on the idea that this possibility will hopefully not materialize.
However, since the charge of reckless homicide was instituted after Teka was shot, it can only be applied to the officer in question if it constitutes an act of leniency. In other words, if the ministerial investigations department originally intended to charge him with manslaughter.
Since Teka’s death, thousands have protested across Israel against what they say is the racist way police treat members of the Ethiopian Israeli community and other people of color.