Israel Police Close Case Against Cop Who Shot to Death Mentally Ill Ethiopian Man

Police say they there is no suspicion of criminal offense because Yehuda Biadga ran toward the policeman who shot him with a knife, posing 'a clear threat'

File photo: Undated photo of Yehuda Biadga, who was shot dead by Israeli police in the central city of Bat Yam on January 18, 2019.
Biadga family

The Israel Police announced on Tuesday that it had closed the case against a policeman who shot and killed a mentally disturbed young Ethiopian man in January. 

The police's Internal Investigations Department stated that no suspicion of criminal offenses was found because the victim, Yehuda Biadga, ran towards the policeman brandishing a knife, and the reason for the shooting was that Biadga posed “a clear and present danger.”

The announcement noted that three eyewitnesses supported the policeman’s account of events, during which the officer shot the 24-year-old Biadga from close range.

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Israelis protesters, some of Ethiopian decent, block a highway during a demonstration against police brutality following the death of Yehuda Biadga, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 30, 2019.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Biadga’s family harshly criticized the decision to close the case and said that it intended to appeal.

The police investigators said that they had examined several issues, including the amount of time that passed until the forces arrived at the scene and the handling by patrolmen of cases of a call relating to a mentally disturbed person.

According to the unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Mahash, the police were summoned in the afternoon because Biadga left his home wearing a prayer shawl and holding a knife, after which his family asked acquaintances to notify the police.

In the calls to the police someone said: “The guy is brandishing a knife … do you want him to hurt someone?” Another call described Biadga as holding “a huge kitchen knife, drawn like a sword.”

It was also said that in response to the policeman’s call to throw away the knife, Biadga began to advance towards him at a run while “holding the knife raised and aimed at the policeman.” In response, the policeman fired twice “from very close range” because he said that he felt that his life was in danger, the police stated.

The policeman said that Biadga was not deterred by the fact that he pulled out a weapon and ordered him to throw away the knife. The investigators stressed, “The versions of three eyewitnesses – objective civilians – who saw the incident, supported this version unequivocally.”

One of the eyewitnesses quoted by the police described Biadga as running toward the shooting policeman with a drawn knife extended, quickly, in order to cause harm. “If the policeman had hesitated for another second, he would have been stabbed,” said the witness. When asked whether in his opinion the policeman was in danger, he replied: “Yes, definitely.”

The daughter of the passerby said that she saw Biadga running with the knife raised toward the policeman “at top speed, coming to stab him.”

Mahash noted that “the witness made it clear that in her opinion the policeman had no choice but to fire at the deceased.”

Another witness said that he saw Biadga raise the “huge knife” in his hand, with the knife drawn and raised to the height of his head, while he quickly moved toward the policeman. He is quoted as saying “the distance between them was very short, and the citizen had a knife drawn and raised.”

The Mahash report stated: “Only after these warnings, and in light of the sudden and drastic change in the behavior of the deceased, when he began to advance threateningly towards the policeman, did the policeman fire his gun. In the abovementioned situation, his life was in danger, not only subjectively as he described it, but also in the objective minds of the independent eyewitnesses.”

The police stressed that their conclusions did not detract from “the serious tragedy that happened to the family of the deceased, and the need for a broad examination of the developments that led in the end to the death of a young man who  was mentally disturbed.”

A Mahash official told Haaretz: “We are really not embracing the policeman. All the family’s complaints were reviewed.” He said that several issues that arose during the investigation were sent for an examination by authorized officials in the Israel Police, including an examination of the “unreasonable” amount of time, according to the source, that it took from the moment the family contacted the police hotline until the police arrived at the scene.

He said the police reviewed all call by the family and other civilians to its hotline regarding Biadga, and examined the issue of how patrolmen handle calls relating to a mentally disturbed person.

Mahash also said that the two video clips that recorded the event were examined – one taken from a neighbor’s window and the other from a vehicle that happened to be at the scene. Investigators used technology to identify the license plate of the cars passing through the intersection during the incident, which enabled them to find some of the eyewitnesses to the shooting.

David Biadga, Yehuda’s brother, called the decision a disgrace. “I’m about to be drafted, and I’m afraid that a policeman will arrest me or shoot me in the street,” he said.

“A place that’s supposed to investigate policemen and to reach the truth protects the policemen. It doesn’t end with my brother’s shooting.” He asserted that “we conduct ourselves in fear in our dealings with an organization that is supposed to protect me.” He added, “My brother didn’t do anything to the policeman. I’m ashamed of this organization. I’m not willing to accept this decision.”

Biadga’s brother-in-law said: “No policeman stood trial because it involved Ethiopians. We won’t stop and we’ll continue to fight until justice comes to light.”

At the end of the meeting of the family and its lawyer with Mahash, attorney Tzahi Lasri said that “Mahash like Mahash is whitewashing evidence. He stated: “I gave them a recording of a delay in the shooting and they refused to check. The evidence doesn’t interest them. One can see clearly that a bus passed at the scene, and the prosecutor said: We didn’t get to the driver.” Lasri said that the family plans to appeal the decision, adding: “There was a feeling that the investigation, even before it began – was closed.”

The policeman’s attorney, Sagi Blumenfeld, said: “This is an obvious decision in light of all the circumstances of the incident, without detracting, God forbid, from the family’s grief.”