Suspect in Palestinian's Roadside Death Case Accused of Harassing Witness

Rehovot police officer on trial for allegedly leaving man on side of the road without food, water or medical assistance, also being investigated for obstruction of justice.

A Rehovot police officer on trial for allegedly causing the death of a badly injured Palestinian man, after leaving him on the side of the road without food, water or medical assistance, is also being investigated over accusations that he harassed a key witness in the case and obstructed justice.

The suspect, Assaf Yakutieli, held a 25-minute phone conversation last week with Oded Picho, a Civil Guard volunteer who apparently helped Yakutieli dump the Palestinian man on the side of the road one night in 2008, lawyers said at the trial in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Sunday. The call, which was recorded, appears to indicate that the police officers beat the man before leaving him stranded.

Omar Abu Jariban - Mohammed Dabah, B’Tselem
Mohammed Dabah, B’Tselem

According to the lawyers' description of the recording, Yakutieli warned Picho, who has received immunity from prosecution, to be wary of the lawyer of another defendant in the case. Yakutieli ostensibly told the witness "not to talk about the blows in the police car."

An earlier internal police investigation did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate suspicions that police officers had beaten Omar Abu Jariban before leaving him on the side of Route 45, between the Ofer army base and the Atarot checkpoint, wearing a Sheba Medical Center hospital gown, at 2:50 A.M. on June 13, 2008.

Abu Jariban, a 35-year-old Gaza man who had been living in Israel illegally and was hospitalized after crashing a car he is suspected of stealing, was released into police custody in a disoriented state. He was unable to walk without assistance and was attached to a catheter.

Baruch Peretz, the police officer on duty, and Yakutieli, who admits placing Abu Jariban on the side of the road - where he later died of dehydration - are being tried on charges of causing death by negligence.

Picho testified on Sunday that he had lifted Abu Jariban's legs into the patrol car because he was not strong enough to get in on his own. The Civil Guard volunteer said he did not know who gave the order to leave Abu Jariban next to the road.

When asked what he was thinking when he apparently moved Abu Jariban behind the safety railing on the side of the road, Picho said on the stand: "I wasn't thinking anything special. I got to the shift. I was very tired."

Yossi Bachar, commander of the Rehovot police station, testified on Sunday that he was not at the station at the time, and said the report he got from the officers present was partial at best.

Bachar said they told him Abu Jariban was "walking," and that he was aware the Gaza man was using a catheter, but thought that was his only medical restriction.

But Shimon Shomroni, the commander of the police district that includes Rehovot, said Bachar told him "the detainee won't be able to steal any more cars." Bachar countered that this was not meant as a comment on Abu Jabiran's medical state.

Bachar said he ordered the police officers to hand over Abu Jabiran to the Israel Defense Forces, which was supposed to bring him back to his hometown - as he said he has done with thousands of illegal residents. Bachar said he was informed after the fact that Abu Jabiran had been left at a well-lit location, and said this sounded reasonable.

Yakutieli has previously said he attempted to hand over Abu Jabiran to the Border Police at three crossing points, but at each one he was told the forces there would not take responsibility for him. The police officer has said he thought other Palestinians would help him. He apparently did not know the road where he left Abu Jabiran is closed to vehicles with Palestinian license plates.

Gal Fichman, the Sheba doctor who signed Abu Jariban's release form, told the court he let the patient go barefoot because "I don't have a stock of slippers on the ward."

Fichman suggested that if no place is found in a rehabilitation center for released patients, they should be returned to Sheba. The hospital said in a statement that it would wait until the trial was over to decide whether any steps should be taken from its standpoint.

Last week the High Court of Justice denied Peretz's petition to indict Sheba Medical Center and his superiors at the police force.