Police officer Shachar Mizrachi was sentenced to 15 months in prison and 15 months parole on Thursday for shooting a car thief in 2006. Mizrachi was convicted of manslaughter in the death of 24-year-old Mahmoud Ganaim of Baka el-Gharbiyeh.
Mizrachi appeared in court dressed in his police uniform. Members of Ganaim's family denounced police for keeping Mizrachi as a member of the force, but were told that commanders would not come to a decision regarding Mizrachi's continued employment until after sentencing.
The incident that led to the shooting began in Pardes Hana, where Mizrachi and his fellow officers responded to a report of a theft in progress. Arriving at a car lot, the officers used a police vehicle to block the exit, leaving the thief – Ganaim – trapped inside.
Ganaim attempted to escape in the newly stolen car despite the blockade. As he drove out, he ran into Mizrachi, causing him light injuries. In response, Mizrachi fired at Ganaim's head, killing him.
Judge Menachem Finkelstein ruled that despite Mizrachi's sense that he was in danger, the shooting was not an act of self defense. “There was no justification for immediately firing at Ganaim's head from short range,” he wrote in his verdict.
During sentencing, state prosecutors argued for a harsh sentence as a message to other officers that police must respect the value of human life. The defense presented testimony from Mizrachi's commanders in the police and the IDF, who told the court that he is a professional, modest officer committed to protecting the public.
In his sentence, Finkelstein said he was impressed by Mizrachi's commitment to his mission and his willingness to put himself in danger. “Shachar could have given up and allowed the thief to escape, and then this incident would have been just another of many in which the theft was never solved,” said Finkelstein, who described car theft as “a nationwide plague” causing “great suffering” to innocent Israelis.
Mizrachi, 29, is a father of two children, the youngest of whom was born during his trial. He will begin his sentence on October 18.
'A Sentence for All Officers'
Mizrachi's mother, Rivka, said the family would appeal the verdict. “Shachar won't spend a single day in jail. This is a sentence for all police officers, who see what happens today to an officer who protects the public,” she said.
Outside the courtroom, dozens of protestors expressed support for Mizrachi. Several waved signs saying “Civilians are vulnerable, criminals rejoice,” and “How long will the state abandon the best of its sons.”
Families Clash in Court – Again
The Ganaim and Mizrachi families fought during Thursday's court session. Ganaim's father brought a large picture of his son to court, and began waving it in the air and shouting. “Your son was a criminal,” a member of the Mizrachi family yelled, to which Ganaim responded, “You are a family of criminals. The court convicted you.”
The families had clashed at earlier hearings as well. In July, members of the Ganaim family yelled “Murderer” and “dog” at members of the Mizrachi family when both appeared to witness a hearing.
The Ganaim family argues that Mahmoud had not committed any crime. Members of the family were unhappy with the sentence given Mizrachi, which they said was too light.
A Sign for Ben-Nun Guard?
The sentence was handed down two days after a similar incident took place in the village of Kfar Ben-Nun. A village guard opened fire on a group of car thieves who ran toward him, killing one.
The guard, a Border Police volunteer, was taken in by police for questioning.