The policeman who shot Solomon Teka to death in 2019 said Tuesday that he had feared for his life but didn’t intend to harm Teka, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, whose killing sparked widespread protests against police brutality and racial profiling.
The officer, whose name is under gag order because he has returned to active duty in the north, spoke during his first day of testimony in a Haifa court.
He killed Teka,18, in a public park in Kiryat Yam while he was off-duty. According to the indictment, he shot at Teka and his friends after they threw stones at him while he was with his family. The policeman is accused of acting negligently and not following open-fire directives when he shot at the hard asphalt rather than into the air or toward softer ground nearby. The bullet ricocheted and hit Teka, causing his death. If convicted, the officer could face up to three years in prison.
The policeman testified that he was attacked. “It’s never happened to me before that when I initiated contact they began chasing me, filming,” he said. “They later threw stones at me. They hit me in the head, the arm and they kept going on. They knew I was armed. None of that bothered them. They kept going. They didn’t stop.”
He added: “I am permitted by law to shoot when my life is in danger. I endangered myself by not firing sooner.” Insisting he meant Teka no harm, he said, “I never imagined he’d be hit by a ricochet. I didn’t even aim at him.”
He testified that “in all my years in the police I underwent training and courses, and I never encountered a simulation of such a scenario, when you are with your wife and children.” He added, “I prepared myself for a situation in which I was at work, where you have tools. When the deceased arrived and I realized that he was dragging me to a place where I’d have no control … I wanted to break contact.”
After the hearing, Teka’s mother said: “When they asked the officer if in retrospect he would have acted differently, he didn’t admit his mistake. We are not like him. We look at him as a person. We are not angry at him. We expected him to ask for forgiveness, and we are seeking answers whether he acted lawfully.”
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While the investigation found evidence for trying the policeman for reckless manslaughter, which carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison, the police internal investigations unit accepted his version of events that he had feared his life was in danger, and indicted him on the lesser charge of causing death by negligence.
“Until the indictment,” the officer testified, “I had faith in the police investigation unit that it would poke holes in and throw out all the evidence. The moment they filed an indictment under intense public pressure against the head of the unit, this hot potato was placed at the entrance to the court and my faith in the unit collapsed.”
After Teka’s killing, thousands of Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrated in the streets. Clashes between protesters and police led to the arrests of 200 suspects for alleged attacks on officers and disturbing the peace.
The policeman was asked during his testimony about excessive police violence against Ethiopian Israelis. He responded: “When someone is standing in front of me, I don’t care what race he is. He will be treated as a person.”