Police stunned at Supreme Court ruling

Officer Shahar Mizrahi's prison sentence was doubled.

police car 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
police car 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Police officers and their supporters reacted with outrage to the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday to double the jail time to 30 months for a police officer convicted last year of manslaughter for shooting a suspected car thief to death four years ago.
The ruling came after the court reviewed an appeal of Shahar Mizrahi’s original punishment of 15 months in jail and a 15-month suspended sentence.
Many of Mizrahi’s supporters had expected the court to reduce Mizrahi’s time in prison.
On July 4, 2006, Mizrahi, then a detective with the Hadera police station, shot and killed Mahmud Gnayem, 24, as he was allegedly trying to steal a car.
Police say Gnayem was shot after he tried to run Mizrahi over with his car, but a cousin of the dead man said Gnayem’s car was parked on the side of the road at the time of the shooting.
Last year, the Central District Court convicted Mizrahi of manslaughter, and on September 4, 2009, sentenced him to 15 months in prison and a 15-month suspended sentence.
Mizrahi appealed the sentence to the Supreme Court, arguing that he had acted in self-defense.
On Wednesday, the court upheld the lower court’s decision, and doubled Mizrahi’s jail time to 15 months, with Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch saying “that it appears that the district court erred by giving more consideration to the personal circumstances of Mizrahi and not enough weight to the value of the man’s life that was cut short. It also didn’t consider enough the wider deterrent considerations of the decision.”
“With little effort, Mizrahi could have avoided the danger he felt and shot out the tires of the car, or the legs of the deceased.”
Judge Menahem Finkelstein, who presided over Mizrahi’s original trial, had said that the incident happened so fast there was no time to think, while just before, Gnayem had attacked the policeman with a screwdriver.
MK Arieh Bibi (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset Lobby for Policemen, Prison Guards and their Families, told The Jerusalem Post following the court’s ruling on Wednesday, “This is a sad day for the rule of law.”
Bibi was formerly the commander of the Yarkon and Jerusalem Police districts and head of the Israel Police’s general headquarters, and was commissioner of the Prisons Service between 1993 and 1997.
“The courts aren’t giving enough backup to police.
What will the officer in the street do now? This is not a good day for the prosecution or the police,” Bibi said.
“What else could he [Mizrahi] have done? Now, you’ll see cops start going on patrol with their lawyers with them.”
Avigail Sharara, head of the “Police and Prison Guards’ Wives Organization,” said her group “regrets the unfortunate decision made by the court today.”
She referred to it as “a verdict against all police officers, who will now think two or three times before they take any action, and will feel compelled to take an attorney with them on any operation.
“Mizrahi’s case is the story of a moral, exemplary officer who while under the threat of death found himself in an impossible situation. This case is about the right of police to protect themselves while on duty,” Sharara said.
The Israel Police declined to comment on the court’s decision, with an officer from the Hadera precinct saying, “This is the decision of the court; we will not comment on it.”
Prosecutor Tamar Parush told reporters at the courtroom, “The court received our position and increased Mizrahi’s punishment. By doing so, it sent a double message: Human life is sacred even when the deceased’s behavior is not to our liking.
The second message dealt with the behavioral requirements of police out in the field dealing every day with very difficult situations. In this case, he [Mizrahi] was not in mortal danger and it was thus forbidden for him to shoot to kill.”
Attorney Nidal Otman from the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel praised the court’s decision, saying that the ruling “was important because it showed that Beinisch saw that Mizrahi had other choices on how to react than to end the man’s life.”
Otman slammed police brass for allowing Mizrahi to remain in uniform while he was on trial and after his conviction, arguing that he should have been taken off duty much earlier.
Otman was skeptical that the increased sentence was a sign of things to come, and said more than 40 Arab Israelis had been killed by police or Jewish civilians since the second intifada began in 2000, and that very few indictments and almost no convictions had come as a result.
“In few cases was an indictment filed, and even when someone was convicted, the punishment was not severe.
The blood of an Arab in the State of Israel is not worth the same as a Jew,” Otman said.