A police officer went on trial Sunday in Haifa for the killing of 19-year-old Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Tekah in the suburbs of the city last June.
The unnamed officer, who is charged with negligent homicide, entered the trial at Haifa Magistrate's Court surrounded by policemen who tried to keep him away from cameras.
The off-duty cop killed Tekah in a park in Kiryat Haim while he was walking with his wife and children in June 2019. He said he had tried to intervene in a brawl between youths during which he fired at the ground. The bullet then ricocheted and hit Tekah, killing him.
As the trial opened, Judge Ziad Falah said he aimed to complete the process quickly and that he would be visiting the site of the incident before calling any witnesses and would return again after hearing the testimonies.
In an apparent message to both sides in a tense case that sparked widespread civil unrest, the judge warned that he would not be swayed by "demonstrations and violent outbursts."
Falah said he would not hesitate to find the defendant innocent or guilty of the charges if the evidence warranted it.
"An acquittal should not be taken as a reflection on the Ethiopian community in Israel, and a guilty verdict should not be seen as censure of the police," Falah said.
As the court session ended, members of the Tekah family approached the defendant shouting profanities and were removed by court security.
The indictment states that the police officer drew his gun, cocked it and aimed it at Tekah and the other youths.
Tekah called on his friends to back away and the officer then aimed at the pavement and fired a single shot. That bullet rebounded and hit Tekah in the left armpit.
The youths fled, including Tekah who quickly collapsed due to his gunshot wound. A local resident who was a medical professional tried to administer life-saving care and evacuated Tekah to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Defense attorney Yair Nedashi claimed Tekah bore some responsibility for the incident as the police officer and his family had been in a life-threatening situation.
"Having no recourse, the officer used his personal weapon to ward off the danger," Nedishi said. "The claims that the shooting contradicted police regulations are untrue."
He said that members of the Ethiopian community have branded his client a murderer after the youth behaved in a brutal manner that contributed to the tragedy that had occurred.
Tekah family lawyer Zion Amir said their suffering was compounded by the attempts to besmirch their slain son's reputation.
"The police officer would do well to ask the family's forgiveness instead of conducting a public relations campaign," Amir said.
The killing sparked a wave of protests by Israelis from the Ethiopian community, coming just months after another member of the community, 24-year-old Yehuda Biadga, was shot dead by police in Bat Yam as he was brandishing a knife on the street. The case was closed and no criminal charges were brought.
Protesters blocked roads and junctions across the country, claiming police brutality and mistreatment of their community.