Judge in Teka Trial: Protests, Media Will Not Sway Judgment

YERUSHALAYIM -
A car on fire during a protest in Tel Aviv following the death of 19-year-old Ethiopian Solomon Teka, who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, July 2, 2019. (Flash90)

Justice will be done, whether the officer whose gunfire shot killed Israeli youth Solomon Teka in 2019 is acquitted or convicted, Judge Za’id Falah said at the opening of the officer’s trial in a Haifa court Sunday. In a special statement at the trial’s opening, the judge said that he hoped that “the trial will proceed in a civil manner. Violence, demonstrations and the media will not influence the decision. I will rely only on the facts. I will hear the entire case, and I will not hesitate to acquit or convict only on that basis.”

The reason for the statement is due to the numerous civil disturbances that have taken place since the death of the 19-year-old Teka, whose death incited members of the Ethiopian community numerous times to block roads and highways and face off against police.

Teka was shot last July by an off-duty policeman under circumstances that are not clear. According to police, the officer was in a park with his family on a Sunday evening when he noticed a fight breaking out among some teenagers. The off-duty officer tried to intervene and break up the fight. He identified himself as a police officer, but the youths began throwing rocks at him. Police said the officer felt his life was in danger, and he opened fire. It is not clear if he was aiming at Teka, but the youth was mortally wounded. He was rushed to Rambam Hospital in Haifa, where he died of his wounds. Witnesses said that Taka was shot when he tried to run away from the officer.

Later theories said that the officer had shot into the ground and that the bullet had ricocheted back, hitting Teka and killing him. The officer has been suspended, and was arrested, questioned and released. He is said to be in hiding with his family. In an interview with Kan News, the officer said that had he not opened fire, “my family and I would be dead by now. They were already advancing on us with their knives drawn.”

The officer, whose identity has not been revealed for security reasons, was indicted two weeks ago on charges of negligent homicide. The “negligent” aspect of the officer’s action is based on his firing at the ground, and not in the air, as a warning shot, as required by police regulations. The defense claims that because of the threat to life, the officer did not have the luxury of firing a warning shot. The indictment came after a Police Internal Affairs investigation, the results of which neither side has been satisfied with. The defense says that the officer is being placed in the role of scapegoat after the unrest that occurred after Teka’s death, while the family claims that police “whitewashed” what should have been murder charges.

Addressing the Teka family, the judge asked that there not be any outbursts in the court during the trial. In response, a family member said that they had no plans to do so. “We have already paid a very high price as a family,” he said. “We have been labeled as troublemakers. We will respect the court, all we want is justice.” The judge responded, “Justice will definitely be done, whether the officer is convicted or acquitted.”

After the incident last summer, Ethiopian community protesters for several days brought traffic in central Israel to a standstill. “They were very strategic,” said Shmuel, one driver who was stuck in a monumental traffic jam. “They blocked every major highway in the center of the country, so there were no alternate routes. My usual one-hour drive took six and a half hours.” There were numerous reports of weddings that were delayed – with the chuppah taking place past midnight – or being canceled altogether, because guests, and sometimes the chassan and kallah, were stuck in the traffic jams.