Israeli Cops Charged With Assaulting Man Who Wasn't Wearing a COVID Mask

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israeli police enforcing coronavirus restrictions in February.
Israeli police enforcing coronavirus restrictions in February.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit filed aggravated assault charges on Monday against two police officers for assaulting and using a stun gun on a man from Holon. The man refused to identify himself so that the officers could ticket him for not wearing a mask in public as was required under the coronavirus regulations.

The man was initially arrested on suspicion of attacking the policemen. Following his release, he was cleared of all suspicion. If the policemen are convicted, they could serve up to six years in prison.

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According to the indictment, which was filed in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, the Holon man, David Orel Biton, 24, was spotted last July without a mask on. The two policemen, Ben Afgan and police volunteer Avishai Cohen, demanded that he identify himself. Bition initially refused and the two policemen informed him that he was being detained and attempted to put him in restraints.

They then held him against the trunk of a car, at which point Biton relented and asked to show them his identification card, which had fallen out of his pocket, according to the indictment. A friend who was with Biton then asked to show them the ID, but the police refused and Afgan then gave Biton an electric shock with a stun gun, the indictment says.

It goes on to state that Biton complained of pain, but Afgan tried unsuccessfully to shock him again. At that point Biton fell to the ground, but Afgan, without justification, kicked and punched him while Cohen, the volunteer policeman, held Biton down. Afgan is then said to have shocked Biton on the back with the stun gun after which Cohen punched him three times in the head until he again fell to the ground. Afgan shocked him a third time and then a fourth as Biton attempted to stand up, the charges state.

He was then put in restraints and taken to a police station with severe head injuries. He was placed under arrest on suspicion of assaulting the policemen and spent two nights in detention, during which time the police refused to provide the court the footage from the policemen’s body camera.

State ombudsman David Rosen, a retired judge, was highly critical of the conduct of the police, and the case against Biton was closed for absence of guilt rather than simply lack of evidence.

“Ben Afgan and Avishai Cohen are violent, thuggish policemen,” Biton’s lawyer, Eyal Abulafia, said. “They cruelly hit my client and even tried to falsely accuse him of attacking them, but the prosecution has cleared him of all guilt. Although weighty indictments have been filed against the two, the police department continues to fight in court for their continued employment, which is an indication of a serious flaw in the values of the police command.”

Israel police meanwhile issued a statement, saying “This is an exceptional and specific case that does not in any way represent the millions of encounters between civilians and police during the enforcement of coronavirus regulations."

“Without diminishing how the young man acted, in which a police officer and a volunteer were injured, the footage of the incident has been transferred to the police investigation authority. The police will now review the case against the officers," the statement continued.

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