A police officer who shot dead an Israeli teenager of Ethiopian descent was indicted Tuesday for negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Solomon Teka, who was 18 at the time, was killed by an off-duty cop in June not far from his family’s apartment in a Haifa suburb. The incident triggered nationwide protests and public debate over police policy toward Israelis of Ethiopian origin.
According to the indictment, the officer, whose name has not been made public, shot Teka at a public park in the northern town of Kiryat Yam, with his wife and three children present at the scene.
The officer approached a group of teenage males whom he had suspected of trying to blackmail another teen and showed them his police credentials, the indictment says. Teka then scoffed at the credentials, according to the policeman’s account, calling them a forgery and some of the teenagers threw stones at the policeman.
The policeman left the area, but the youths followed him, cursed and threw stones at him, injuring the officer, the indictment says.
The officer claimed that Teka was among those throwing the stones, some of which hit the policeman. The officer said he then drew his gun and from 2 meters (about 6 feet) away, shot a bullet at the ground. A bullet fragment ricocheted and struck Teka in the chest, killing him, according to the officer’s account.
The indictment accuses the officer of causing death by negligence because he shot at the hard asphalt rather than into the air or toward softer ground nearby, while trying to warn Teka and his friends to step away from him. The charges say that in doing so, the officer acted “in contravention of police directives with regard to opening fire, which do not permit shooting toward the ground, in the manner carried out by the defendant,” adding that the officer fired his gun very close to Teka’s legs.
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The indictment reflects that the investigators accepted the policeman’s explanation that he felt his life was in danger. It refers to the stone throwing as “a threat that he faced.”
“The decision takes into account that the accused was with his family, was attacked by stones on the part of the deceased and other youths, and was also injured in the incident before he used his gun,” the indictment says.
The officer’s attorney, Yair Nadashi, said that “the filing of the indictment is a bitter mistake that will be made clear in court.” He said “the policeman acted properly and courageously by coming to the aid of the minor who was being blackmailed by the deceased and his friends, and had to defend his life and those of his family after being brutally attacked.”
Teka’s father, Woreka, said in response: “We are demanding a just trial and not to see Solomon’s blood spilled anew.” He said “there’s great frustration in the family. Solomon’s friends and many in the community feel that justice hasn’t been served.”
Woreka Teka added: “My son died and this policeman is still free. I really hope he gets the punishment he deserves. In recent months since the investigation and their recommendations, we feel as though Solomon has been killed again. I don’t call for violence and I don’t want to see Ethiopian youths confronting police again but I have no control over them.”
Attorney Zion Amir, representing the Teka family, said “the family anticipates that perhaps the policeman will finally find time to apologize for this terrible incident, instead of dishonoring the memory of the dead by making false allegations that have nothing to do with the charges against him.”