Israeli Rights Group Reverses Verdict, Brings About Indictment of Abusive Policeman

According to the indictment, Sahar Tannous allegedly pulled a handcuffed Palestinian by the shirt, threw him to the floor, hit him in the legs with a club and cursed him.

Some two years ago after a brutality case against a policeman was dropped due to lack of evidence, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI ) has successfully fought for the case to be reopened and the officer, Sahar Tannous, was indicted recently for his alleged violent actions. After examining the file, deputy state prosecutor Shai Nitzan recommended prosecuting Tannous, who was charged about six weeks ago.

The incident occurred in December 2008. The complainant, Mohammed Shawish, a resident of Kafr Aqab, north of Jerusalem, had driven to the Lions Gate of Jerusalem's Old City to pick up a relative, Alaa Jamjoom, who had two of Shawish's children, aged 4 and 2, with him.

Mohammed Shawish - Emil Salman - 25102011
Emil Salman

Just before Shawish drove off, the indictment said, a policeman standing nearby approached the car and asked to see Shawish's documents. According to the complaint, Tannous - a policeman at the David Precinct - wanted to give Shawish a ticket because neither he nor Jamjoom were wearing seatbelts. Shawish and Tannous began arguing. The shouting made Shawish's two children cry, and Jamjoom took them out of the car to calm them down.

At that point, according to Shawish's complaint, Tannous grabbed Shawish by the shirt and threw him out of the car. Tannous then told Shawish he was under arrest, but Shawish objected. The complaint relates that Tannous then shoved Shawish up against a nearby wall and sprayed him in the face with tear gas, handcuffed him and shoved him into a patrol car.

According to other policemen at the scene, Jamjoom tried to pull Shawish out of the patrol car, thrust his upper body into it and hit the policemen sitting inside, for which he was also arrested. According to the indictment, Tannous continued to abuse Shawish even after he was arrested. When they got to the Old City police station, Tannous allegedly pulled Shawish by the shirt while he was stilled handcuffed and spat in his face. Afterward he hit him twice in the ear and threw him on the floor. When Shawish was on the floor, he hit him in the legs with a club and cursed him.

Shawish was released later that night after questioning, and a medical exam revealed that his left eardrum had been punctured and had bled, and his left leg was badly bruised. With the help of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Yesh Din human rights association, Shawish filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers.

Nearly a year later, the department told ACRI it was closing the file for lack of evidence. "Chances of obtaining a conviction are unlikely," ACRI was told in writing.

But apparently the deputy state prosecutor believed otherwise. ACRI appealed the file's closure, and Nitzan accepted the appeal, recommending that Tannous be tried. Tannous was charged in Jerusalem Magistrate's Court with assault. "Only a small number of complaints against policemen end in indictments," said ACRI attorney Keren Tzafrir. "We see so many people who give up and don't complain because they have no faith in the system."

The Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers said that after "evaluating the appeal of the case, and after consultations between the department and the appeals department, it was decided to interview the complainant, after which it was decided, together with the appeals department, to issue an indictment against the accused."

Tannous has not been suspended from the force.