Over three-and-a-half years after Ethiopian-Israeli Yosef Salamsa died under mysterious circumstances following physical abuse at the hands of police, the attorney-general rejected his family’s fifth appeal to indict the two officers responsible.
On the night of March 1, 2014, without warning, police beat and tased Salamsa, 22, arrested him, and left him shackled on the ground outside the Zichron Ya’acov police station, south of Haifa.
According to a police report, a call was received about two suspects, one armed with a knife, attempting to break into a building in Binyamina. Salamsa, who had been recently discharged from the IDF, was tased by one of the responding officers a short time later.
Salamsa was never charged with a crime, and in the ensuing weeks his family said he developed an acute form of post-traumatic stress, coupled with clinical depression stemming from the assault.
Moreover, the family claimed the officers who arrested him subsequently harassed and threatened him and his family. Three months later Salamsa was found dead near a Binyamina quarry.
Although the coroner concluded the cause of death was likely self inflicted, he did not rule out foul play, and the family was forbidden from viewing his body, further exasperating tensions.
Salamsa’s death sparked widespread protests and rioting within the Ethiopian community amid claims of institutionalized racism, manifested by routine police brutality against its members.
Last February, the Justice Ministry announced it closed its investigation against the officers involved in the case, stating that it found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but that there were a number of instances of “misconduct” in how the police treated Salamsa.
The infractions cited included not warning him that they would use a taser, leaving him shackled and handcuffed alone outside the police station, and fabricating their arrest report.
Although the ministry said it would not recommend criminal charges, it did call on the police disciplinary branch to examine the officers’ conduct.
On Sunday night, over one year after Salamsa’s parents filed a fifth appeal to review the case and indict both officers responsible for his beating and false arrest, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit declined to do so.
Still, Mandelblit personally met with Salamsa’s parents, brother and two attorneys in his Jerusalem office to inform them of his ruling, and noted clear misconduct by the officers accused in his beating.
“The officers’ account is not supported by the investigative materials, nor does it match the testimony of eyewitnesses to the incident,” Mandelblit wrote in his decision, adding that the officers’ conduct should be reviewed by the police commissioner.
While lamenting Mandelblit’s refusal to prosecute the officers, the Salamsa family’s attorneys, Dror Matityahu and Dana Shul, said the attorney-general “acknowledged a sizable portion of our grievances regarding the conduct of the officers involved in his arrest.
“The attorney-general’s decision sends a clear, unequivocal message to Israeli police officers, the Ethiopian community and the entire Israeli general public: Unjustified police brutality visited upon the Ethiopian community will not be left without response, and copsturned- bad will pay a heavy price for their actions.”
On Monday, Salamsa’s cousin Tehune Maharat denounced the ruling as an abdication of responsibility by the attorney-general that reinforces an unspoken acceptance of wildly disproportionate police brutality against Ethiopian citizens.
“This was the fifth time the case was dropped,” Maharat said, while conceding that Mandelblit displayed genuine sympathy to the family.
“We feel abandoned and still demand to know what happened to Yosef that night, why the officers tased and beat him, and why they are still working in the police department.”
Noting the 2016 police beating of uniformed Ethiopian IDF soldier Damas Pakada and last week’s murder of Ethiopian Border Police officer St.-Sgt. Solomon Gavriya in Har Adar – who saved multiple lives by helping neutralize an Arab terrorist who killed two others – Maharat said she wondered what it will take for Ethiopians to be afforded respect and equal rights in Israel.
“Despite serving in the IDF, police force and government and contributing to society, we still feel like our lives don’t matter in this country, because of the color of our skin,” she said.
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