MKs criticize police handling of Bar Noar case

“You lost control of the case, and the public's faith in police,” MK Shai says at Interior Committee meeting on case.

By
June 24, 2013 12:14
4 minute read.
Miri Regev at the Knesset Interior and Environmental Affairs Committees, April 17, 2013.

Miri Regev 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Knesset)

Police handling of the Bar Noar arrests has been an embarrassment, Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev said on Monday morning.

“The behavior of police so far has been an embarrassment and every event [in the case] has ranged from a scandal to a festival,” Regev said at a meeting of the committee to examine the police’s handling of the media, as well as the escape of the case’s star witness last week.

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In reference to the June 10 press conference police called to reveal details of the case, only to have to retract those revelations once the court extended the gag order, MK Nachman Shai issued a similar critique, saying that the police handling of the gag order on the case was “at best strange, at worst disappointing and embarrassing.”

“I stopped understanding the police behavior,” Shai said. “The celebration in the media was something unique here. The table [for the press conference] was too small for all the officers present. There were fewer journalists there than police officers, this is not fitting of such an honorable organization.”

Shai accused the police of going over the court’s head, and said that the embarrassment that occurred after the gag order was extended “has now put a hex on the case, and everything happening with it has been polluted.

“You lost control of the case, and what’s most important is the public’s faith in the police.”

The committee meeting was opened by Tel Aviv Police Deputy Commander Shuki Zusi, the most senior police officer present at the meeting, and was not attended by Tel Aviv Police Commander Bentzi Sau, Israel Police head Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino, or any officers from the Tel Aviv branch of the YAMAR investigative unit, which has carried out the Bar Noar investigation and was in charge of protecting the state’s witness who fled a safe house last week.

Zusi would not speak about the police’s botched handling of the gag order, and instead focused on the terminology used to described the state witness. Zusi argued the man had never been arrested, and therefore did not “escape,” but rather, “left” the safe house. He added that the man was never considered a fugitive, nor had he ever been under the watch of six detectives, as per reports in the press, but only two.

Zusi’s contentions were dismissed by Regev and other MKs present, who insisted on referring to the witness’ 48 hours on the run as “an escape.”

MK David Tzur (Hatnua), the former head of the Tel Aviv Police, took a less critical approach towards police, saying that he believed holding the meeting was premature.

According to Tzur, police must focus on two operational questions: “Did the main suspects come up as people of interest in the case anytime in the past four years before the witness came forward?” and “What are the mistakes that enabled the witness to flee the safe house early Thursday morning?” Tzur also asked if the lifting of the gag order and the media storm surrounding the case could have encouraged the witness to flee.

Tzur served as Tel Aviv Police Commander from 2004 to 2008, and was in the post on November 24, 2006, when serial rapist Benny Sela escaped from police custody in transit to a court hearing.

Media coverage of the scandal and Sela’s two weeks on the run left a stain on Tzur’s record and is believed to have cost him the possibility of promotion.

The meeting also dealt with the police’s decision to not place the man in the national witness protection program, which is believed to have made his escape much easier. The escape became even more of an embarrassment on Thursday afternoon, when Channel 2 aired a sit-down interview they scored with the witness, at the same point he was hiding from police. A lawyer for Channel 2 at the meeting said that the witness made contact with Channel 2 and initiated the interview and that the channel acted responsibly and briefed police after conducting the interview.

Attorney Yoel Hadar, legal counsel for the Public Security Ministry, said simply there were operational reasons behind the decision to keep the man in the custody of the YAMAR Tel Aviv unit instead of the witness program.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) issued a call for police to put a stop to the leaks making their way to the press, saying that “this story has run in the press and the public more than anything I’ve seen in years – a deluge of information in the media.”

Horowitz, a former journalist, said “every day there is more in the papers about what this officer or that officer said, everything is out in the press. As a lawyer, I don’t know how you take a case like this to court. I think that we must close the gate and get the press out to some extent, if possible.”

He added that “with this type of press coverage, who needs a court? Why not just have a poll among readers of the papers, who can vote by sending in an SMS? It’s absurd.”

He also called for an examination of the decision to allow Shaul Ganon – who allegedly raped one of the suspects – to sign an immunity deal in exchange for his testimony.

Closing the meeting, Shai said of police handling of the Bar Noar case “If it happens once, it’s a mistake. If it happens again and again, it indicates an illness in the organization.”


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