Police Likely to Close Case Against Cops Involved in Fatal Car Chase of Settler Teen

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Teen girls clutch posters with the face of Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed in a police chase, January 2, 2021.
Teen girls clutch posters with the face of Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed in a police chase, January 2, 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The case against the police officers involved in a car chase that resulted in the death of settler teen Ahuvia Sandak last month is expected to be closed, according to sources involved in the investigation/

Sandak, 16, fled from police with four friends after they allegedly threw stones at Palestinian vehicles. The car in which Sandak was traveling collided with the patrol car pursuing them, and Sandak was killed when the car flipped.

Police are reportedly closing the case on the grounds that it is impossible to determine what caused the crash between the patrol vehicle and the suspects' car.

A joint team of police detectives and the Justice Ministry unit that probes police misconduct reportedly tends to accept the officers' version of events, who said that they did not intend to crash into the fleeing vehicle, and that the crash occurred when the suspects' vehicle attempted to prevent the patrol car from overtaking them.

Meanwhile, according to sources familiar with the case, the prosecution is expected this week to indict Sandak’s four companions in the car on charges of throwing stones at Palestinians. The maximum penalty for throwing stones at vehicles is 20 years in prison.

Police also suspect that the suspects' vehicle spent some of the time travelling in the opposite lane, against traffic. According to the sources, it has not yet been decided whether the young men – two adults and two teens – will also be charged with responsibility for Sandak’s death. The police have not yet determined who was driving the car, because all four suspects were silent during questioning.

The police suspect that the driver was Ephraim Gozlan, 20; however, Gozlan maintains that Sandak was the driver. The charge under consideration is reckless homicide; however, the judges of the magistrate’s court and the district court which have seen the evidence have said that this charge was not a result of the investigation.

The prosecution may charge Gozlan with negligent homicide if it is determined that he was the driver, but has not made a decision whether the evidence is sufficient for this charge. According to a Supreme Court verdict, only a driver can be charged with negligent homicide, and there is no complicit responsibility in such a charge, as opposed to reckless homicide.

The four are also suspected of abandoning Sandak because they refused to tell the police whether there was another passenger in the car after it overturned.

The prosecution has not made a decision on this charge, because it might be found not to hold water: The four may claim that they did not tell first responders about Sandak because they believed he had managed to flee the scene. According to sources familiar with the investigation, Sandak was killed instantly when the car overturned, or died very shortly thereafter.

The four young men, who initially refused to file a complaint against the officers who pursued them, changed their minds and provided their version of events after they were released from custody. They claimed in their complaint that the police had intentionally collided with them, declining to give details of the events that preceded the collision.

The police traffic accident investigators said it could not be determined whether the collision was intentional or occurred because the suspects’ vehicle veered out of its lane. However, according to the traffic accident investigator hired by the right-wing organization Honenu, which is representing the suspects, the patrol car intentionally collided with the suspects’ vehicle.

According to a source in the Justice Ministry unit investigating police misconduct, no marks on the road contradict the private investigator’s version of events. “Any unambiguous determination that the collision was intentional is not serious and not founded [in the facts]” the source said.

The case opened against one of the police officers involved in the incident that he obstructed the investigation is also expected to be closed. The officer was arrested a week ago after Ma’ariv journalist Kalman Liebeskind reported the officer’s version of the events leading to Sandak’s death, on suspicion that he discussed the case with Liebeskind. According to the source: “There was no place to deepen the investigation or arrest the officer from the start.”

Police shoot water canons at protesters in Jerusalem protesting the death of Ahuvia Sandak, January 2, 2021. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Sadnak's death sparked widespread protests against police violence, with continued protests taking place at Police Headquarters in the weeks following his death. Palestinians and police officers were targeted by protesters, with authorities reporting dozens of attacks on Palestinians since Sandak's death. 

In the latest protests on January 2, demonstrators called police "murderers," blocked a road near the Justice Ministry building and, according to police, slashed the tires of a police car and vandalized another. 

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