Israel Closes Case Against Police Officer Who Killed Mentally Unstable Man

Officer acted in self-defense, investigators say, after Shirel Habura repeatedly attacked him with a knife – but chide police for failing to write new procedures on how to handle the mentally ill despite recommendations

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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The scene where mentally ill Shirel Habura was shot dead by a policeman in Rosh Ha'ayin, central Israel, April 30, 2020.
The scene where mentally ill Shirel Habura was shot dead by a policeman in Rosh Ha'ayin, central Israel, April 30, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police misconduct has decided to close the case against the police officer who shot and killed Shirel Habura, a mentally ill young man, in the central Israeli city of Rosh Ha’ayin in April 2020.

Investigators found the officer had not committed a crime, but had acted out of self-defense, as his life was in concrete danger when Habura attacked him with a knife.

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The Justice Ministry unit recommended passing on the case file to the police for possible disciplinary steps, and to examine the procedures for handling calls concerning mentally ill people. The announcement on closing the case was given to Habura’s family on Thursday.

On April 30, Habura’s mother called the police and reported he was carrying a knife and wanted to slaughter the pets in their home. The police officer who responded was the commander of the patrol unit in the Rosh Ha’ayin police station. In a video of the incident, Habura can be seen attacking the officer with a knife and knocking him to the ground. The officer later pushed him off and shot him. Habura, 30, had been released from psychiatric care only six months prior to the incident. He had been indicted twice in the past for violent assaults.

The Justice Ministry department said the officer arrived at the scene alone and explained to Habura’s family that because Habura had not committed any crime, the officer could not detain or arrest him. The family asked him to take him away in any case, and while the officer was consulting with his superior officer on what to do next – Habura attacked him.

According to investigators, Habura began running at the officer while holding a knife, and tried to stab him in the head and upper body. The officer tried to put some distance between them, but Habura managed to stab him in the leg. The officer then tried to flee, because he felt his life was in danger. He kicked and pushed him away, and began running away form Habura – with Habura running after him. The video of the incident clearly shows Habura was very close to the officer and tried to stab him, said investigators.

While trying to flee, the officer was forced to draw his weapon, chamber a round and while running shot a number of bullets at Habura. In spite of the fire, Habura reached the officer and knocked him to the ground. The officer fell, and Habura – who was caught in the police officer’s legs – fell too. While both were on the ground, the officer saw that Habura was trying to get up again – so he also stood up and shot him a number of times, rapidly, said the investigators.

The officer was investigated shortly after the incident on a suspicion of unlawfully firing his weapon, but continued working as normal.

The officer acted according to police regulations on opening fire – and acted legally in self-defense, after Habura put him in serious danger and a “concrete and immediate” risk to his life “with no other way to prevent the injury,” said the Justice Ministry.

However, the Justice Ministry investigators noted that this was the second time in as many years that the police were asked to examine their procedures concerning responding to people with psychological problems, but did nothing. The force received the same recommedantions after the death of Yehuda Biagda, a young man of Ethiopian origin and mentally ill, who was shot and killed in 2019 by a policeman, but no new guidelines were written.

The case against the police officer who shot Biagda was also closed without any charges, in similar circumstances – because Biagda ran at the officer waving a knife and investigators determined the officer fired “out of a feeling of a near and immediate danger to his life.”

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