Protests erupted Tuesday at the site where 18-year-old Solomon Teka was shot and killed a year ago by an off-duty police officer in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Haim. The judge in the trial was visiting the scene when dozens began taunting the accused officer, who was also present. Protesters shouted “murderer,” “liar” and “child killer” at the officer, and a scuffle ensued with his supporters, requiring the police to separate the two groups.
The officer is charged with negligent homicide in the June 2019 death of Teka, whose family immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia. The incident triggered a wave of protests and public debate about police policy toward Israelis of Ethiopian origin.
Haifa Magistrate’s Court Judge Ziad Falah was given explanations from the accused officer as well as by members of the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct. The officer told the judge how stones had been thrown at him and how he shot Teka. Falah then asked the officer why he had not fired into the air, toward the ground or toward a nearby grove. The officer responded that he feared for his life. “They had murder in their eyes,” he said.
According to the indictment, the officer, who was off-duty at the time and with his family, fired at Teka and a number of his friends in a park after they threw stones at him. A bullet ricocheted off the pavement, hitting and killing Teka.
At the beginning of the trial Falah announced his intention to visit the scene, an unusual move step, due to the complexity of the incident. During the visit, the judge asked the Justice Ministry investigators to explain, among other things, if firing at the sandy ground or in the air would have endangered passersby or nearby buildings.
Teka’s father, Worka, who was also at the scene with his family, said: “Everybody here was waiting for us to disrupt the visit. They use their aggression to hurt us, but we came only for our voices to be heard, to show that we respect the law.” Teka added: “Ninety five percent of the white people love us. Together we will win. Solomon is the last victim, may there be no more black victims.”
Dozens of police officers were deployed ahead of the judge’s visit Tuesday morning, due to concern over protests or possible harm to the accused officer.
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So far the court has heard testimony from members of the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct. The youths and a youth counsellor who were with Teka when he was shot are also scheduled to testify and the officer who shot Teka will also take the stand.
Concerns for the officer’s safety have prevented him from returning to his home, which is near the scene of the shooting. He is guarded by police when in public as well as when he comes to the courthouse.
Judge Falah also visited the Yatsev Youth Center from which Teka had come on the day he was killed.
The center has named one of its rooms after Teka, who was an active member, in a ceremony attended by Haifa Mayor Anat Kalisch-Rotem and MK Pnina Tamano-Shata.