Sloppy Police Work Leads to Release of Dozens of Protesters

Due to improper and illegal record-keeping, officers could not specify the reasons for the arrest of dozens of protesters, forcing the court to release most of them.

Police officers violated protocol when they arrested social protesters during a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, law enforcement officials told Haaretz Monday.

Due to improper and illegal record-keeping, officers could not specify the reasons for the arrest of dozens of protesters, forcing the court to release most of them.

The police had intended to indict 37 of the more than 90 people arrested during Saturday's demonstration. But most ended up being released a few hours after their arrest, when police apparently realized the charges against them would not stand up in court.

On Sunday, only 14 indictments were presented in court.

None of the suspects were charged with causing damage to bank windows on Saturday night; the windows of at least three banks were smashed during the demonstration.

Judge Tzahi Ouziel rejected the police request to keep the protesters in custody, and warned against infringing upon the freedom of expression and the right to protest.

Protesters charged that the police used excessive violence to disperse the demonstration, during which activists blocked major streets and highways, and broke into branches of Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount banks.

Protesters' attorneys also accused police officials of violating arrest protocol.

One alleged violation involved the failure to fill out a report that by law must be completed prior to suspects' transfer to police detention, and which specifies the reasons for the suspects' arrest. This report is then presented to the court during the subsequent remand hearing.

In one instance, several dozen activists were detained at the Gan Ha'ir mall and a police bus arrived to take them to the police station at Gelilot. Initially, a policewoman stood at the entrance to the bus and asked each officer for the arrest report relating to the person in his custody. However, a higher-ranking riot police officer arrived on the scene and ordered her to halt the procedure.

Thus, when the bus arrived at the Gelilot police station, the police on duty could not process the detainees, because police did not know what the charges against them were.

Gabi Lasky, who is representing many of those arrested, said that without the requisite reports, the police could be liable for the false arrest of her clients.

One police official told Haaretz, "As far as the police was concerned, officers could have arrived at the station later to fill those reports out. But even that wasn't done ... that's probably the reason that most of those arrested were released," he said.

Meanwhile, postings on police officers' internet message boards show the conflict some felt in confronting the popular protest.

"We'll lose nothing if we let go a little, and let the citizens achieve something. Yes, for us too," one officer wrote.

"And no, I don't expect us as police officers to ignore those who riot and instill anarchy in the streets," he continued. But he added that there is "a way to detain and perform arrests. Where is good judgment?" ... (Choking? Pulling hair? Kicking? Is that reasonable force? )."

Chief Superintendent Ami Ben-David, the spokesman for the Tel Aviv police district, said that the police "recognizes the importance of basic democratic values concerning the freedom of protest and assembly along with the freedom of expression and opinion shared by all Israeli citizens."

Ben-David also said that the units and their commanders "were instructed to allow every expression of legitimate civil protest, while demonstrating due sensitivity and restraint in their dealings with the protest, and taking determined enforcement steps against those who wished to break the law and spread chaos."

Ben-David added that "last weekend's riots, vandalism, and disorder cannot be linked to last summer's protests."