Three years ago a family from Miami moved to Israel, realizing a lifelong dream. But today, their faith in the state lies in tatters, following what the family says is a litany of nightmarish abuses, blunders and oversights allegedly committed by police and the Prisons Service against their 17-year-old son.
The family members, residents of Karmiel, asked to remain anonymous to protect their son from further suffering.
The teenager, S., was beaten by police after being arrested last month, his family alleges. He was then brutally gang-raped repeatedly by juvenile inmates at a maximum security prison facility near Haifa, according to an indictment filed by Haifa state prosecutors last week against three suspects. The charge sheet details how the youths allegedly used a copper wire to pierce S.'s ear to mark him as their "slave."
S. suffered a serious injury caused by a fall in 2007, which fractured his skull. He has developed tinnitus and a hearing impairment since the fall, and is scheduled to undergo surgery in the near future to relieve pressure on his brain.
Throughout his five days in custody police ignored pleas by his family for his medical condition to be taken into consideration, Lior, S.'s stepfather, said.
The family has filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department over the alleged police abuse.
"We have received the complaint," a PID spokeswoman said on Sunday. "An investigation has been launched."
A Galilee police spokesman said he could not comment on the allegations, since the matter was under PID investigation.
"We came here with the best of intentions," said Lior, a veteran of the US Army, where he served in the Paratroopers and Army Rangers. S.'s older brother, 21, recently completed his IDF service, having served in the Givati Brigade. He took part in combat operations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, and is currently serving in his reserve unit.
"We came with a dream. We were prepared to work in a tomato field if we had to. But now we are absolutely going to leave," Lior said.
"I'm heartbroken," S.'s mother said. "How could this happen in Israel?"
On November 18, S. walked to his girlfriend's home. "He waited for her to return home, and went into the front yard of a neighbor to urinate," Lior said.
"He didn't feel comfortable asking his girlfriend's father to use the bathroom," S.'s mother added.
At this point a neighbor, fearing the presence of a suspicious character, called municipal security guards, Lior said.
"When the guards arrived, they accused him of trespassing and trying to break into the home," Lior said. They called police to the scene, and S. was arrested.
Amir Melzer, an attorney representing the family, said police carried out a full body search on S., "but found nothing."
"They put him into the patrol car, and that's when the nightmare began. Apparently, they felt free to give him a smack on the head. He told the officers, 'Don't hit me, I have a head injury.' The officers [allegedly] feel they can smack minors to pressure them and get information out of them," the attorney said.
"He was then brought to a police station. Officers looked up his record and found that he had been arrested in the past for smoking a joint," Melzer said.
In 2008, S. was arrested for possession of hashish during a run-in with local police.
He was not prosecuted because it was his first offense, but was assigned a youth probation officer, and ordered to pay a fine.
"Now they [allegedly] felt they got their hands on a repeat offender and could advance their careers," Melzer continued. "But they forgot that they are obligated to report the arrest to S.'s youth probation officer, and neglected to do so."
The family's attorney and the youth's father say that S. was taken into an interrogation room without a lawyer or accompanying parent - as required by law for minors being questioned - and "given a few more smacks. Officers then announced that hashish was found in the patrol car that brought S. to the station."
"We were called to the station and told, 'Your son was arrested for attempted break-in and drug possession,'" Lior recalled.
"I arrive with my older son, and we can hear the screams from outside the room. I say, 'It's against the law for him to be there alone,'" Lior said.
Eventually police allowed Lior and his eldest son into the interrogation room.
"My younger son is bent over the chair, with his right arm over his head. He said, 'Dad, they're beating me.'"
When Lior protested, he was accused by police of interfering with the interrogation, and thrown out of the room, he said.
"Hours later, he is brought out of the interrogation room and taken to jail [ahead of a remand hearing]," Lior continued. "He's crying."
Police took S. to Kishon Prison near Haifa. Later that same evening, at S.'s request, the youth was taken to the Western Galilee Government Hospital in Nahariya for an examination, but not before police made him agree to pay NIS 700 for the check-up, "since it was carried out as his request," Melzer said.
A hospital report written by doctors a few hours after the arrest, and seen by The Jerusalem Post, notes signs of external bruising on the youth's head and back.
The following morning, an Acre magistrate extended S.'s custody by four days, sending him back to the Kishon Prison, where his nightmare was about to get much worse, Melzer said.
"Kishon is a place that has experiences and characters that you never want to come across," he said.
"Three inmates decided to carry out a ceremony to show S. who was in charge. They beat him with a water bottle, pierced his ear and raped him anally and orally twice," the attorney added. "By this stage S. had gone into survival mode, and would say anything to make it end. He confessed to the hashish and that he planned to break into the home.
"The police were very satisfied," Melzer said.
On November 22, Melzer was hired by the family to represent their son, and met S. for the first time at Krayot Magistrate's Court.
"His feet and hands were cuffed. He's bitten his nails clear off. He told me in a broken voice that he was kept in a small cell in a vehicle for six to seven hours before court. I can see something terrible has happened," the attorney said.
"His ear is swollen and has fluids dripping from it. I asked him, 'What happened?' He broke down and told me everything. I trembled when I heard it," Melzer said.
"The judge almost cried when she saw his condition," he added.
S. was released to house arrest on Sunday, and continues to face an indictment.
Medical tests carried out on the teenager at the Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Haifa on November 25 found a "a sad, crying teenager," as well as an "injury in his earlobe." Injuries were discovered on S.'s right shoulder, scratch marks were found on his chest, and wounds indicating rape were discovered by the doctors.
"The physical and anal results match the teenager's story," doctors concluded in their report, which was seen by the Post.
"The state today cannot care for the well-being of minors it takes into custody, and S.'s story is a huge warning sign for all of us - the government, the Knesset and most importantly, for the Israel Police and IPS [Israel Prisons Service]," Melzer said.
"I've been a lawyer for 14 years, and I've seen many complex cases. I'm supposed to remain professional, but I fell apart when I saw that teenager," he said.