In contrast to conclusions offered by the Yaron Commission, police revealed for the first time Wednesday that they suspected serial rapist Benny Sela evaded police searches for two weeks with the help of a female family member. Sela was questioned for hours Wednesday, as was one of his relatives, a 61-year-old, who police suspected aided him while he was on the lam. The woman lives in the North of the country, the region where police suspect that Sela spent at least part of his two weeks of freedom. The woman was released following questioning.
Four to receive reward for Sela capture
Sela himself was questioned from the morning until 8 p.m. by the district's Central Investigative Unit (CIU) after being transferred early Wednesday morning from prison to the Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit's offices for questioning.
Sela maintained a steady silence concerning his escape and events related to the police investigation into it. After hours of questioning and leaving police with few new revelations, Sela was returned to his isolation cell at Rimonim Prison.
Meanwhile, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Israel Police Chief Moshe Karadi wasted no effort Wednesday trying to undo the damage that the newest allegations of police abuse of Sela caused to the image of Israel's law enforcement community.
Visiting the Northern District, Karadi received an overview from Northern District Commander Dan Ronen of the report filed by a senior police officer appointed to examine police behavior at the Nahariya station after Sela's capture. Sela has claimed he was physically abused, and pictures released earlier this week show interrogators forcing Sela to pose for pictures celebrating his capture.
Karadi's message was one of damage control for the police, complimenting their performance as a whole while taking care to portray the police officers in the pictures as exceptional cases of bad behavior.
In the morning Karadi sent out a letter to all members of the Israel Police, expressing his support for their work. Senior officials said the missive was motivated by "the wide public debate through the media outlets on the topic of the police in recent days and because of the harsh criticism which has been heard from those directions."
However, later in the day, Karadi blasted the police officers involved in the photograph scandal, saying that "the police officers' behavior was in opposition to the values of the police and harmed its image. This [phenomenon] must be torn up from the roots."
Karadi also spoke with Police Investigative Division (PID) head Herzl Shviro and the two agreed that some of the police officers who were seen in pictures that were published would be given disciplinary hearings for illegal use of force and behavior inappropriate for a police officer.
The two also agreed that if Sela and his attorneys submit complaints about violence beyond that portrayed in the pictures, the PID would investigate the policemen involved.
Dichter also took the same route - defending the organization while reiterating that the police officers photographed with Sela in degrading positions were part of a small, isolated group.
"I definitely see the capture of the prisoner Benny Sela and his return to prison as an admirable operational achievement. The capturing of the prisoner was the result of intense intelligence and operational effort from the police officers of Israel Police and citizens who are concerned and because of that both police and the public deserve praise," Dichter said before the Knesset Wednesday afternoon.
But he went on to admonish that he "was not satisfied, to say the least, by the behavior of a small number of police officers toward the prisoner. Complaints with regard to violence will be checked both by the [Justice Department's] PID as will as by a police officer who will deliver his work today to the Northern District Commander Cmdr. Dan Ronen."
As a further sign of how low the police self-confidence has plummeted amid criticism, Karadi called off a prisoner escort to a Wednesday hearing at the last minute, a Channel 10 report revealed Wednesday evening. Police were to escort a dangerous prisoner, sentenced to 30 life sentences, to a hearing in which he was suing the Israel Prison Service (IPS) for NIS 700 after they allegedly lost a packet of his cigarettes.
Following Sela's escape, IPS had asked to cancel the hearing, but a judge ruled it was within the prisoners' right to attend. But as the armed convoy was leaving the Hadarim Prison with the prisoner, who was handcuffed and foot-cuffed securely, police were allegedly ordered by Karadi to turn back, as the convoy was not authorized.
There was, however, one positive outcome of the Sela scandal recorded Wednesday as the Fischer Fund, who had offered a NIS 100,000 prize for Sela's capture, announced the prize would be divided among four groups of people.
Baruch Mazur, the fund's general manager, said that NIS 25,000 each would be awarded to Lior Schatz, the young soldier who noticed Sela at Kibbutz Kinneret; Sela's foster family members in Nesher who telephoned police after he paid them a surprise visit; a Nahariya woman named Rina Greenberg who spotted him on Route 4; and the Nahariya policemen who finally apprehended the rapist.