Israel Closes Case Against Police Involved in Deadly West Bank Car Chase

Attorney General Mendelblit said police were not criminally responsible because the chase, in which 16-year-old Ahuvia Sandak was killed, was justified due to suspicions that the occupants of the car threw stones at Palestinians

A demonstration in Jerusalem in November against alleged police misconduct in the death of Ahuvia Sandak.
A demonstration in Jerusalem in November against alleged police misconduct in the death of Ahuvia Sandak.Credit: Emil Salman

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit closed the criminal case on Thursday against four policemen involved in a car chase in the West Bank in December 2020 in which 16-year-old Ahuvia Sandak, an occupant of the other car, was killed.

The teen died when the car in which he was riding overturned after the police car collided with it. He was apparently not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the car and pinned underneath it.

Mendelblit said the policemen couldn’t be held criminally responsible because they were justified in chasing the vehicle. Police suspected the four occupants of the car of having thrown stones at Palestinians.

“There is no support in the evidence for the claim that the policemen sought to hit the fleeing car deliberately,” Mendelblit wrote. And from reports prepared by accident investigators, including one hired by Sandak’s family, “it is not possible to determine which vehicle swerved and caused the collision,” he stated.

Immediately after the incident, rowdy demonstrations were held at the entrance to Jerusalem to demand that the policemen be put on trial. Following the decision to close the case against them, the police are gearing up for additional protests in the coming days, beefing up their forces in Jerusalem and bringing in extra riot-control equipment.

Activists responded to Mendelblit’s decision by announcing a demonstration in Jerusalem Thursday night. “Mendelblit announced the closure of the case against the policemen who rammed [Sandak’s car] and in the process the cover-up is complete,” they stated in their announcement.

Mendelblit noted that Sandak and his companions had been suspected of throwing stones that hit a Palestinian car in the West Bank, thereby endangering human life. The four, who were all masked, then fled in the car.

Police set up a temporary roadblock by positioning a patrol car across the road, but the suspects got around it by driving onto the shoulder of the opposite lane. Police then gave chase,with their lights flashing and sirens on and ordered the other car to stop.

Mendelblit toured the stretch of road where the incident took place, and in his decision, he noted that the policemen initially refrained from trying to get ahead of the suspects’ car – because the road was winding with limited visibility and because the suspects’ car was swerving back and forth across the road in an effort to prevent the police from passing. Once the highway became straighter and afforded good visibility, the patrol car tried to pass the car to stop it, he concluded.

As it passed, the patrol car’s right front corner hit the left rear corner of the other car, which swerved onto the shoulder of the road and overturned into a ditch. Sandak, was thrown out of the vehicle and killed.

One of the suspects told the team investigating the incident that shortly after the crash, he heard one of the policemen say, “[Look] how we screwed up their car.” But Mendelblit said the allegation could not be verified.

Ahuvia SandakCredit: Courtesy of the family

Both eyewitnesses and the passengers riding with Sandak, who was too young to have a driver’s license, claimed that he was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. Mendelblit said that could not be proven either.

He wrote that he has asked the chief of the Israel Police, Kobi Shabtai, to have the force draw lessons from the incident and consider whether police regulations governing car chases should be revised.

The other three occupants in the car were investigated both on suspicion of throwing stones at Palestinians and for failing to tell police after the crash that there had been a fourth person riding with them. As a result, police didn’t realize that Sandak was trapped under the car. His body was only extricated more than an hour later, after the other injured passengers had already been taken to the hospital.

A decision on whether to prosecute them is expected shortly.

Sandak’s family called Mendelblit’s decision a moral disgrace. The policemen “killed our son, falsified evidence, contaminated the scene and told lies about the incident that contradicted the evidence and [other] testimony,” the family alleged in a statement. They also accused Mendelblit, the state prosecutor and the Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit of “failing to uncover the truth.”

“Israelis, and parents of children in Israel ought to be concerned today – concerned that Israeli teens, who could be their son, could be killed in an encounter with a policeman who has decided that he’s a policeman and a judge and an executioner, and all this with the state’s backing,” the statement added.

Lawyers Moshe Alon and Diana Shumsky, who represent the policeman who was driving the patrol car, welcomed Mendelblit’s decision to close the case despite what they described as “heavy pressure” to do otherwise. The police officers acted in accordance with the law, the lawyers said in a statement, and “have no connection whatsoever with the regrettable result.”

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