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From the field

3 appeals submitted regarding closure of 3 investigations of police officers

Update: On 1 May 2013 Adv. Gaby Lasky was informed by the Appeals Dept. at the State Attorney’s Office that the appeal filed on behalf of Philip Andrew Trotter had been reviewed by the Deputy State Attorney, who did not change the decision by the Department for the Investigation of Police to close the case.  Adv. Lasky was further informed that the Appeals Dept. had decided to transfer the matter to be handled by commanding officers. On 30 January 2014 the Office of the State Attorney announced that it had decided to reject the appeal regarding police violence and the firing of tear gas canisters in the course of the 13 May 2011 demonstration in the village. On 11 July 2013 ACRI was informed by the  Appeals Dept. at the State Attorney’s Office that the appeal regarding the minor H.J. had been reviewed by the Deputy State Attorney, who did not change the decision by the Department for the Investigation of Police to close the case.

B’Tselem recently learned of the decision by the Police Investigations Unit (PIU) to close the files on three cases dealing with complaints submitted to the unit. Acting on behalf of the complainants, B’Tselem obtained and examined copies of the case files and found investigative errors and omissions.

In two of the cases, an appeal has been submitted to the State’s Attorney by Atty. Gabi Lasky on behalf of B’Tselem. The third case was passed on to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which has also submitted an appeal.

Details of the appeals:

Violence and firing of tear gas canisters directly at protesters in a demonstration at a-Nabi Saleh on 13 May 2011 – An appeal filed against the decision to close a case regarding a demonstrator who was injured by a tear gas canister, and the decision not to investigate Border Police violence toward demonstrators and the injuring of another demonstrator who was shot in the head by a gas canister.

On Friday 13 May 2011, there was a demonstration at a-Nabi Saleh, northwest of Ramallah, against the takeover of the village’s land for Israeli settlements. Such demonstrations are held weekly in a-Nabi Saleh, and are attended by Palestinians, Israelis, and foreign citizens. The demonstration was dispersed by Border Police officers who made extensive use of crowd dispersal techniques and acted quite violently, as documented on video by B’Tselem volunteers Bilal Tamimi and Nariman Tamimi. While dispersing the demonstration, police officers beat demonstrators with their fists and with a club, kicked them, cursed them, sprayed some of them with pepper spray, and used unreasonable force in arresting demonstrators.

Video footage documenting the violent dispersal of the demonstration. Fore further information on the incident click here

Moreover, Border Police officers shot tear gas canisters directly at protesters, wounding two individuals; Ben Ronen, an Israeli demonstrator, was shot in the hand and two of his fingers were broken, and Chris Whiteman, an American, sustained a head wound. The shooting of a tear gas canister at Ben Ronen was also captured on video.

Following the demonstration, five protesters submitted complaints to the Police Investigations Unit (PIU) against the Border Police officers who were at the demonstration. The complaints addressed the firing of tear gas canisters aimed directly at demonstrators and the extremely violent behavior of the police. B’Tselem’s information indicates that the complainants did not throw stones at the police officers nor endanger them in any way. Following submission of the complaints, the PIU opened one investigation addressing all the complaints relating to this demonstration. B’Tselem monitored the progress of the investigation on behalf of the complainants.

On 30 January 2012 the complainants were notified by the PIU that the case involving Ben Ronen’s injury from a tear gas canister was being closed due to insufficient evidence. As to the allegations of violent behavior by the police officers against Ben Ronen and the other complainants, and as to the injury sustained by Chris Whiteman after being shot by a tear gas canister, the circumstances were deemed insufficient to justify opening a criminal inquiry.

Examining the case file disclosed that although the PIU did collect detailed complaints from all those injured, it only investigated the complaint by Ben Ronen and completely neglected the other complaints regarding violent behavior and the head injury to Whiteman from a tear gas canister aimed directly at him, notwithstanding the fact that some of these were documented on video, and certainly called for clarification. On 3 May 2012, Attorney Gabi Lasky on behalf of B’Tselem submitted an appeal to the State Attorney on the PIU decision. Lasky criticized the handling of the investigation and argued that the PIU did not do enough to uncover the truth concerning the complaint by Ben Ronen of an injury from a tear gas canister, and that it could have easily accessed additional documents and eyewitnesses and conducted a more thorough examination at the site of the incident. Lasky also argued in the appeal that although the PIU investigation was deficient, there was already sufficient evidence to issue an indictment, and that if further evidence is needed they could call for the proper completion of an investigation rather than close the case.

In regard to the violent behavior of police towards other complainants and Chris Whiteman’s head wound from a tear gas canister aimed directly at him, Lasky argued that the PIU blatantly ignored these complaints and took none of the steps required to either substantiate or refute the complainants’ allegations. Among other things, the PIU chose not to investigate these complaints at all despite the existence of evidence that could have helped the investigation. Thus, Lasky demanded that the State Attorney call for a serious and thorough investigation into the complaints that were not addressed. This should include Ben Ronen’s complaint that he was attacked with a club, which was not investigated despite video documentation that was conveyed to the PIU.

Appeal against the decision to close an investigation regarding spraying pepper spray at close range in a nonviolent demonstrator’s face at the village of a-Nabi Saleh, 17 June 2011:

On 17 June 2011, Philip Andrew Trotter , a German citizen, participated in a demonstration in a-Nabi Saleh. During the demonstration, Trotter was standing with a group of protesters not engaged in any violence and facing a row of Border Police blocking their way, when a policeman sprayed pepper spray in Trotter’s face from a short distance. Video of the incident filmed by B’Tselem clearly shows that the attack absolutely contravened the police regulations for the use of pepper spray, which is not to be used less than a meter and a half away from the object being sprayed, and even then may only be used against someone who appears about to attack the police or to resist or evade arrest in a violent manner. The regulations further specify that the spray may only be used if the suspect cannot be overcome by other means or when there is a real suspicion that physical contact with the suspect could cause even greater harm. The rules emphasize that the spray is not to be used against someone passively resisting arrest.

Video footage from the incident

On 30 June 2011, Trotter submitted a complaint to the PIU and provided documentation of the incident. B’Tselem has monitored the handling of Trotter’s case by the PIU.

On 16 February 2012, the PIU notified B’Tselem that it completed the investigation and decided to close the case since the circumstances did not justify a criminal proceeding.

The file conveyed to B’Tselem showed that the policeman suspected of the attack was interrogated under caution by the PIU. The suspect identified himself by name on the video and confirmed that he had used pepper spray against the complainant, but alleged that he did so in a reasonable manner.

Apart from the testimonies of the complainant and the suspect, no further testimony was collected in the case. The investigation included a report based on viewing the video of the incident, and the PIU obtained the incident report and an operational report on the mission, but no further investigatory action was taken. At the conclusion of the investigation, the PIU notified the policeman suspected of the attack that after weighing the evidence, no criminal charges would be brought against him and the case would be closed. Contrary to the explanation provided in the notification to the complainant, the PIU notification to the suspect stated that the decision was taken due to insufficient public interest in the case.

On 3 May 2012, Attorney Gabi Lasky on behalf of B’Tselem appealed to the State Attorney against the PIU decision regarding this incident. Lasky stated in the appeal that given the visual documentation of the circumstances of the incident and considering the other evidence in the file, there can be no dispute that the suspect had no legal authority to use force against the complainant and that the use of pepper spray against the complainant was done in total contravention of the applicable police regulations. Lasky also alleged that the PIU decision to close the case due to a lack of public interest, as the suspect policeman was told, is completely unreasonable from a moral and legal standpoint, it harms the rule of law and the public interest in preventing crime, and undermines public trust in the law enforcement system. Attorney Lasky called on the State Attorney to revoke the PIU decision and order that the suspect brought to trial.

Appeal against the decision to close the case regarding an attack on a minor by Israel Police officers at Ras al-’Amud on 23 September 2011:

On 6 October 2011, H.J., a 17-year-old resident of Ras al-’Amud, submitted a complaint to the Police Investigations Unit about an attack by policemen. His testimony to the PIU revealed that on 23 September 2011, when there were clashes between the police and a group of Palestinian youths in the Ras al-’Amud neighborhood, the complainant happened to be in the area and was treated violently by the police. As a result, he was bruised and his ankle was fractured in two places. Furthermore, despite his severe injuries, H.J. was not taken for immediate treatment at a hospital, but rather was taken first by police ambulance to the Russian Compound, and only thereafter evacuated by a Magen David ambulance to Hadassah Hospital-Mt. Scopus.

ח.ג'. והשוטרים בעת האירוע, כפי שתועדו במצלמתו של סלימאן ח'דר, 23.9.11.
H.J. and the police officers during the incident. Photo: Sliman Khader, 23 Sept. 2011

In addition to the detailed complaint H.J. provided of the violent attack against him and the fact that the police ignored his broken ankle, H.J. also gave the PIU pictures in which the policemen involved in the attack are visible, and he provided contact information for two eyewitnesses to the incident. B’Tselem investigated this incident and assisted H.J. submit the complaint to the PIU. B’Tselem also gave the PIU additional photographs and the documentation of H.J.’s medical treatment after the incident, and monitored the handling of the complaint.

On 2 January 2012, a notice was sent to H.J. from the PIU stating that after examining his complaint and reading the material about the incident that the PIU had collected, a decision was made that the circumstances do not warrant opening a criminal investigation. A copy of this letter of notification remained in the PIU case file, but the letter itself never reached the family or the attorney representing the complainant in his suit for civil damages. B’Tselem only learned of the PIU decision not to open an investigation into the incident following receipt of the PIU response to a B’Tselem request for a routine update on several cases, on 13 March 2012.

Review of the investigation file conveyed to B’Tselem showed that the PIU made do with a superficial inquiry into the complaint before deciding not to open an investigation. B’Tselem passed the case on to the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel for further handling. On 8 May 2012, Attorney Michal Pomerantz of ACRI submitted an appeal to the State Attorney against the PIU’s decision. Pomerantz argued that the handling of the case was inadequate and that additional investigatory steps could have been taken to cast light on what happened. Despite the fact that the complainant had given the PIU contact information for eyewitnesses to the incident, no attempt was made to summon these individuals for questioning. Likewise, the PIU made do with internal reports provided by the policemen on the day of the incident and did not conduct any clarification with them after the complaint was submitted.

Attorney Pomerantz called on the State Attorney to instruct the PIU to open a criminal investigation into the incident, which should include questioning the suspects and taking testimony from eyewitnesses such as other policemen present at the incident and the individuals whose names were given to the PIU by the complainant or other witnesses whose testimony could shed light on the circumstances of the incident.