In stunning turn of events, video exposes false testimony of police officers Judge acquits a Haredi protester accused of attacking a policewoman The judge decided, after watching a video documenting the incident, that the policewoman and four policemen lied, and acquitted the defendant • "The thought of how the case might have ended had the video not been shown keeps me awake at night"
Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Yaron Mintkevich on Thursday, Nay 25, 2017 acquitted Aharon Grauman Halevy, an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator accused of attacking a female policewoman during a demonstration against the Israeli mandatory draft law at the intersection of Yehezkel and Shmuel Hanavi streets in Jerusalem last March. The indictment alleges that Grauman Halevy beat the policewoman on her back several times with his fist, and that the policewoman could not keep him away, so policemen in the area took over and arrested him. This was based on the testimony of the policewoman who was allegedly assaulted and four other policemen in court. Two of the witnesses even claimed that the demonstrator kicked the policewoman, and one of them went further, describing the demonstrator as "in a frenzy" and saying that if he had not come to the aid of the policewoman, she may have been hospitalized to this day. However, Judge Yaron Mintkevich ruled that the police officers who testified against the protester had lied, after watching a video presented in court, from which it emerged that the protester did not attack the policewoman, as was alleged in the indictment. "The only contact between the defendant and the policewoman was that he pushed her hand - and it is not like the prosecution's witnesses: No punches on the back, no punches to the head, no kicking or spitting, and, needless to say, none of the policemen rescued the policewoman from the defendant's hands, It was the policewoman who brought the defendant to the ground and only then did the police arrive, beat him and arrested him,” the judge ruled. "At the beginning of the video a number of people in ultra-Orthodox garb are seen sitting on the road and policemen are trying to move them," said the judge. "They are surrounded by border police and riot police. At 45 seconds into the video, the policewoman is seen pushing a demonstrator dressed in a long black caftan sitting on the road, and pulling him. At this point, we see the defendant sitting next to this demonstrator on the road. Five seconds later, the defendant stands up, pushes the hand of the policewoman to keep her away from the demonstrator and retreats immediately. The policewoman, in response, pushes the defendant down on the road. "At 51 seconds, we see three policemen, who testified in favor of the policewoman, running up and beating the defendant for a few seconds while he is lying on the ground while another policeman looks on. A police detective who testified in favor of the policewoman stated in his testimony that he saw the defendant "giving the female cop punches in the upper part of the body and kicking while the policewoman tries to defend herself and be released from him." When asked if the defendant continued to attack the policewoman, the witness replied, "Even when he was separated from the policewoman, he was very difficult to control; he was in a frenzy." After the videotape was presented to him, he said that the camera’s view of part of the attack might have been blocked by one of the policemen, and then changed his story: "Maybe there were not forty kicks and slaps, but there were two." Another policeman who had testified said that not everything was visible in the video. The policewoman herself, who was allegedly attacked, testified that during an attempt to scatter the demonstrators, one demonstrator attacked her from behind. "He punched me in the back and pushed me." She felt pain, but could not remember more and could not identify the defendant. When the defense argued that she had been facing the defendant during the confrontation, she replied, “That is a lie; my back was turned toward him.” After she was shown the video (second 00:47) she reversed herself and said that she did not remember. However, her original testimony had been given immediately after the event, even before her hospitalization. Another officer testified that he had seen the defendant standing above the policewoman, "punching her in the direction of her head and body ... he stopped only because we jumped on him ... he did not give up and run, but continued." This story does not match the facts visible in the video. After watching the video, the same officer said, “You see his hands moving. That can’t be something weak. That is punches.” He did not retract his testimony. Another officer who had testified in favor of the policewoman, after watching the video, said, "When you see a person attacking with his hands, you cannot be exact one hundred percent." When confronted with the documentation in which he appears to be beating the defendant - contrary to his story - he said: "When a person attacks a policeman he becomes unruly. As a policeman, I had to give him a soft beating in order to subdue him and get him to the patrol car. " At the end of the trial, Judge Yaron Minkatevich said that there is no dispute about the authenticity of the video, which proves that the policemen were not accurate in their statements. As if this were not enough, some of the policemen changed or softened their stories after seeing the evidence. "The only contact between the defendant and the policewoman was that he pushed her hand - and it is not as the prosecution's witnesses said: no punches to the back, no punches to the head, no kicking or spitting," said the judge. He added that it was superfluous to say that "none of the police officers rescued the policewoman from the hands of the person who had not been rescued because it was the policewoman who brought the defendant to the ground - and only then did policemen arrive, beat him and arrest him." The judge said that "there is no escaping the difficult but obvious conclusion that the testimonies of the five policemen were not true." In view of this, the judge decided to acquit the defendant of the offense of assaulting a policeman. Regarding the charge of participation in the riot even after an evacuation order had been issued, he was also acquitted because the charge was unproven. "In light of my experience from the policemen, I cannot give their statements or testimony before me any weight, and even if I gave them the full weight, it is very doubtful whether it can be concluded that the actions of the demonstrators caused a public panic. It seems only that the police arrives to move the protestors off the street, and they refused to leave the area and continued to sit on the street, which would disturb the public order - but nothing more.” “The video saved the defendant, who was almost convicted of a serious offense in the light of the police testimonies," the judge concluded. The judge harshly criticized the police and ordered the decision to be handed over to the Department for Investigation of Police Crimes. "The thought of how the case might have ended had the video not been shown keeps me awake at night," he wrote. The video was taken by an organization called "The Struggle Against Police Violence against the Ultra-Orthodox" run by Rabbi Yitzhak Davidovitch. The organization was established over the past year following many cases in which Haredim were accused based on testimonies of police officers who turned out to be false. “Demonstrations are legitimate, and the police should not try to suppress them by filing indictments using false police evidence,” Rabbi Davidovitch said. Orthodox Jews have always refused to serve in the Israeli army on religious grounds, due to their belief that Judaism prohibits Jews from establishing their own state or their own army. For over 60 years, the Israeli government grudgingly respected the rights of the Orthodox community to be conscientious objectors. But in 2014, they passed new legislation obligating every young man to serve. Although the full implementation of this law has been postponed for several years, recruiting offices are now under orders to tighten the rules on army exemption and try to get as many yeshiva students as possible into the army. This has led to almost constant demonstrations and clashes with the police in the streets of Jerusalem and other cities with large Orthodox populations. Many in the Orthodox community believe that police brutality at demonstrations like these is deliberately intended to break the community’s resolve and, eventually, bring them into the mainstream of secular Israeli society through the means of the melting pot of the army. “In this case, an innocent man was nearly imprisoned for years for a crime he did not commit,” said one activist. “We are waiting to see whether the officers who testified falsely will be punished.”