A man was acquitted of drug charges last week because the events police described in the indictment differed from those they described immediately after his arrest.
Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly said the two policemen had coordinated their stories, and that their conduct could “pollute” the evidence in the case. Consequently, she said, the defendant’s story was more credible than the policemen’s version.
M., a resident of Jerusalem, was arrested in March 2017 after a chase through the Beit Hanina neighborhood. Advanced Staff Sgt. Maj. Rawad Gawanmeh and Cadet Moshe Vizman said he had fled on foot after leaving his car, and as he ran, he threw a bag by the roadside that later proved to contain dozens of ecstasy pills and hashish joints. He was charged with possessing drugs that weren’t for his own use and obstructing a policeman in the line of duty.
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But during the trial, contradictions emerged between the reports the policemen filed immediately after the arrest and the version of events they gave in court, as well as disagreements between the two policemen.
For instance, in the arrest reports, both wrote that M. saw them from his car, got out and fled on foot. But eight months later, they said that M. noticed them only after he had gotten out of the car, at which point he ran.
Additionally, Gawanmeh wrote that the bag M. threw by the roadside had a diameter of around 20 centimeters, whereas Vizman described a much smaller bag. Vizman also charged in court that Gawanmeh lied in his arrest report because he wanted the credit for the arrest.
Gawanmeh attributed the differences between the arrest reports and the indictment to policemen’s habit of discussing what happened during an arrest after they file their arrest reports, which are written individually.
During those conversations, he said, details sometimes emerge that not everyone present had initially remembered.
But Lary-Bavly said this practice could lead “to a dangerous and troubling situation in which policemen’s reports don’t describe an event as they perceived it, but go through some ‘filling in of gaps’ and refining of details during conversations with their colleagues. This leads to the dangerous conclusion that information given by a policeman a few days or months after the event is information polluted by the descriptions of other policemen present at the scene.”
M.’s attorney, Hisham Omari of the Public Defender’s Office, said that what emerged during the trial is “common practice at the police station.”
The police said its prosecution department would study the ruling, and if necessary, rules would be clarified and lessons would be learned.