Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich on Sunday announced the formation of an external commission of inquiry to probe the shooting incident at Rimonim Prison last month, in particular how convicted murderer Samuel Sheinbein managed to get ahold of a pistol in the penitentiary.
The committee will begin working in the coming days and will be required to submit its findings within a month, the minister’s office said Sunday.
During the shooting and subsequent standoff on February 23, Sheinbein wounded several prison guards, including two who were left in serious condition.
Aharonovitch’s office said Sunday that the decision to hold the inquiry was made on the suggestion of Prisons Service Commissioner Aharon Franco.
The committee will include the former director-general of the Justice Ministry, Dr. Guy Rotkopf; Brig.-Gen. (res.) Miki Barel, former head of the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police; the former commander of the Northern District police, Warden (ret.) Yitzhak Gabai, and Asst.-Warden (ret.) Debbie Saguy, former head of the Prisons Service instruction department.
“The incident at Rimonim Prison is a very severe one, and an incident that we must not allow to repeat itself,” Aharonovitch said Sunday.
On February 23, the 34-year-old Israeli-American convicted murderer opened fire on prison guards and barricaded himself in the bathroom at Rimonim’s cell block 5. Hours later he was shot dead when he opened fire on a Prisons Service and police response team.
Not long after the shootout, investigators found inside Sheinbein’s cell a prison guard uniform, keys to the cell block, and a spare pistol clip. It remains unclear what he was planning to do with the contraband.
Sheinbein was serving a 24-year-sentence for the September 1997 murder of teenager Enrique Tello Jr. in Maryland.
He fled to Israel following the murder, using an Israeli passport attained through his father, a dual US-Israel citizen. The Israel Supreme Court rejected a US extradition request, in keeping with the law at the time, but an Israeli court later sentenced him to 24 years for the murder. The case led Israel to change its extradition law.
Late last month, police announced that they had traced the Colt pistol used by Sheinbein to a man from central Israel. The man was questioned by police and told investigators that the gun was stolen from him a year ago and that he does not know Sheinbein. The man is not a cop or a member of the security services, police said, adding that he is also not considered a suspect or believed to be involved in helping Sheinbein get the gun into his prison cell.
During Sheinbein’s last furlough on February 6, he tried and failed to steal a firearm from a man in Ramle. The man had advertised the gun online, and when he met Sheinbein in Ramle the convict snatched the gun and tried to flee by foot, but was chased down by the gun owner who held him for police. Sheinbein was indicted for the crime but was not moved from his cell or placed in solitary or more high security supervision.
Altogether, Sheinbein took 96 furloughs during his time in prison in Israel, including ones of 24, 48, and 96 hours.
The Prisons Service said Thursday it wasn’t an unusual amount, considering that if prisoners meet all the requirements they can be eligible for a furlough as often as once a month.
The Prisons Service had canceled Sheinbein’s furloughs a few times due to violations, including an incident where he smuggled a contraband MP3 player back into his cell. Each time, his furlough privileges were reinstated by a court.
Just a few days before the fatal shooting, Sheinbein locked himself inside a synagogue on his cell block and refused to leave for over an hour. He was ordered kept in his cell through the weekend, and was being moved to a different block on February 23 when he pulled the pistol and began shooting.
The shoot-out was the latest in a series of serious incidents since Aharon Franco was appointed to head the agency in April 2011. In March 2013, Shai Cohen, 40, of Holon, jumped out of the second-story window of the Jerusalem rabbinical court.
Cohen, who was not handcuffed or wearing ankle restraints, has still not been found. That same month, 50-year-old Michael Yeruslavsky, who was being held on an attempted murder charge, managed to tie up and escape his guards at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba. He was caught when a police helicopter spotted him hours later.
In January, the cabinet voted to extend Franco’s term as Prisons Service head by an additional year.