The Justice Ministry's unit for investigating police misconduct filed an indictment Thursday against a Border Police officer for reckless homicide of an autistic Palestinian in East Jerusalem who was shot dead last year.
The charge against the 20-year-old officer carries up to twelve years in prison. Eyad al-Hallaq, a 32-year-old resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, was shot dead in the Old City on the way to his special needs school in May 2020.
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Although the indictment was originally slated to be filed in March, this was postponed following a petition to the Supreme Court by the officer's defense counsel.
The indictment states that the accused and his commander were near the Lion’s Gate when al-Hallaq appeared on his way to school wearing a black mask and gloves. Other police officers in the area suspected that al-Hallaq was a terrorist because he stopped several times and looked back as he was walking.
According to the indictment, “even though Eyad was on the ground when he was wounded as a result of the initial shooting, had nothing in his hands and had done nothing to justify it [the shooting], the accused fired at Eyad’s upper body, thereby taking an unreasonable risk of causing his death.”
One of the officers, the indictment adds, communicated by radio that there was a terrorist in the vicinity and began to pursue al-Hallaq. The commander fired twice at al-Hallaq without hitting him. At this stage, the indictment says, the accused overtook the officer while al-Hallaq hid in a storage area for trash.
Also present in the area at the time was a street cleaner, an employee of the Waqf (the Muslim religious trust in charge of the Temple Mount on behalf of Jordan) and a counselor at al-Hallaq’s school who had been on her way to accompany him to school.
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When the officer entered the area, alongside his commander, he shot at al-Hallaq, hitting him in the abdomen, according to the charger.
The commanding officer told the cop to stop, and he shouted at Eyad in Hebrew, "Do not move." After one of the officers asked him where his weapon was, the wounded al-Hallaq mumbled and pointed to the counselor, who said "What gun?." But the cop fired another shot.
Al-Hallaq's counselor Warda Abu Hadid, who was at the scene, later recalled screaming “He is disabled, he is disabled!” in Hebrew at the police.
Haaretz has learned that while being interrogated, the police officer who shot al-Hallaq claimed that he feared being shot because the deceased had made a "suspicious move,” claiming that the shots his commander had initially aimed at Hallaq’s feet, combined with the fact that he ran into a closed space, increased his suspicion that he was a terrorist.
The officer also said that he believed that Abu Hadid’s screams were motivated by “fear that [al-Hallaq] was going to hurt her.”
To back up his claims, the officer had said that even after the shooting, Border Police continued to treat al-Hallaq as a terrorist, looking for weapons in the area and stripping al-Hallaq to make sure he was not wearing an incendiary device.
In the wake of the charges on Thursday the officer’s lawyers, Adv. Efrat Nachmani-Barr, Adv. Sharon Zaggi-Pinchas and Adv. Alon Porat lambasted the police misconduct investigation unit for its "unfortunate decision" reflecting a "serious mistake in judgment," and a "complete lack of understanding" of operational matters by the unit.
The officer's defense counsel also warned of potentially dire consequences, alleging that the unit's decision to prosecute may dissuade officers from acting in the future for fear of being prosecuted. "A situation in which an officer acts in good faith while on-duty and finds himself on the docket is an intolerable situation," they continued.
The officer’s entourage also harshly rebuked the police misconduct investigation unit for being so quick to announce the filing of the indictment and for its decision to inform the officer almost at the same time as it did the media, effectively leaving his commanders and family with almost no time to stave off the situation.
The case against the cop's commanding officer was closed after his innocence was determined.
Speaking to Haaretz not long after al-Hallaq's killing, his family said that he "wasn’t capable of harming anyone.”
“He never had problems with the police. In the morning, we received a call from the special needs facility, telling us our son had been killed,” his father said.
In the wake of the incident, protests demanding justice for al-Hallaq erupted in Jerusalem and Jaffa. Demonstrators carried photos of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by white police officers in Minneapolis last year whose killing spurred nationwide protests in the U.S. against police brutality.
A statement from the Justice Ministry unit that investigated the affair released in October said that "The deceased posed no danger to police and civilians in the area," and that the officer who shot him did so against orders.
In July 2020, the Justice Ministry said there was no video footage although Haaretz has found that there are no fewer than 10 private and security cameras in the 150 meters between the Old City's Lions Gate, where the chase began, and the garbage room where al-Hallaq was shot to death.