The trial of the off-duty police officer who shot and killed an Ethiopian Israeli teen last summer, setting off protests that at times became violent, began Sunday in the Haifa Magistrate’s Court.
The officer, whose name has not been released for publication, was charged with negligent homicide in the June 30 death of Solomon Teka, 18. If convicted, he could be sentenced to as much as three years in prison.
Before the trial began, Judge Zaid Falah told representatives of the media that “the violence, the demonstrations and the media don’t influence the court. Acquitting the defendant does not mean finding fault with the deceased or the community, and his conviction does not mean finding fault with the Israel Police.”
The judge said he would visit the shooting site, telling Teka’s family: “I know it’s hard for you, but the trial will be conducted in an orderly manner.”
The Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers denied a request by defense attorney Yair Nadashi to see the criminal records of Teka and his friends. The lawyer said they were relevant to his client’s case and would shed light on his actions.
The indictment states that 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. He was charged with negligence and ignoring protocol by firing at the pavement, rather than into the air or at nearby sandy ground. The bullet ricocheted off the asphalt, hitting and killing Teka.
During Sunday’s hearing, relatives of Teka shouted “murderer” at the policeman and criticized the fact that he was concealed from them. Teka’s father, Woreka Teka, said: “If the judge wants we can have a fair trial, if there’s no cover-up and concealment.” A friend of the Tekas said at the end of the hearing, “There was a fraught atmosphere, the family is having a hard time, we are being trampled. We respect the court but we want justice and we will pursue the truth.”
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Solomon Teka’s death aroused widespread protests by thousands of Israelis of Ethiopian descent against what they see as police violence and discrimination. There were violent clashes between demonstrators and police officers. Around 200 people were arrested on charges including disorderly conduct and suspicion of assaulting police officers.
Nadashi said a great injustice was caused to his client, who was served with a flawed indictment when he did nothing wrong. The defense lawyer said the officer was put in a difficult situation, in which he and his family faced a clear and present danger, and that only used his personal firearm when he had no other choice. The officer’s behavior was brave and professional, his lawyer said, and he clearly had no intention of harming the deceased or his friends, but only of deterring them.
“The policeman and his family are relying on the court to give them a fair trial and uncover the truth,” Nadashi said.