Rough Justice / Police Tase Homeless Man in Jerusalem Synagogue

According to complaint, policemen shot man in back amid Jerusalem synagogue morning prayers.

The Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers is looking into a complaint against policemen who allegedly fired a Taser gun at an emotionally disturbed homeless man. The man was shot with the Taser while trying to evade arrest by fleeing into a Jerusalem synagogue last week.

According to the complaint, the policemen shot the man in the back, even though they had him cornered in the synagogue and he presented no threat to them. Police regulations allow the use of the device only if a policeman feels he is under threat.

The incident occurred last Wednesday morning at the Neveh David synagogue in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood, during the morning prayers.

"Toward the end of the prayers, we heard a noise that sounded like a shot," recalled Ofer Cohen, one of the congregants. "We turned around and saw a man fall forward, flat on his face, and faint. It was scary.

"It was someone we knew from the neighborhood, a man who isn't emotionally well. He's not a threatening person; he's the type that if you slap him, he'll fall down."

Other witnesses said the man had entered the sanctuary holding a prayer book when he was shot in the back by two policemen who were chasing after after him.

The victim was a U.S.-born man who now lived on the streets, witnesses said. Most of the day he could be seen sitting quietly in the plaza that separates French Hill's two main synagogues.

"Very few people could communicate with him," said Cohen. "He's one of those unfortunates. No one knew his name or whether he had any family. But he wasn't harmful or anything."

One of the worshipers who witnessed the scene rebuked the police officers.

"He said, 'You shot him in the back and that's forbidden,'" Cohen recalled. "But they didn't answer and tried to arrest the guy they shot and get out of there."

But the worshipers persisted, surrounding the policemen and demanding their particulars so they could file a proper complaint. At first, the officers refused, Cohen said, but eventually they submitted the details of the policeman who had fired the Taser.

The Jerusalem Police said the officers gave chase following a complaint by one of the worshipers that the victim had assaulted him a few days earlier. "They tried to detain him, but he resisted violently and attacked the officers, which is why the Taser was used... The police plan to also charge the subject with assaulting police officers," a statement from the police said.

Police said the complainant was in the synagogue that morning, but did not say a word during the incident.

"That sounds ridiculous, this guy couldn't hurt anyone," Rafael Atias, who filed the complaint to the Justice Ministry, said on Sunday. "How could he be a threat to any one; he's thin as a rake.

"But it doesn't matter; we don't care that they arrested him. What upsets us is that they shot him with this device, and in synagogue, yet."

After his arrest, the man was released with restrictions. None of the worshipers have seen him since.