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Jerusalem teenager’s arrest probed amid conflicting accounts

  • June 30, 2020

The Justice Ministry department responsible for investigating police opened a probe Monday into the arrest last week of a Jerusalem teenager who claims he was detained for no reason and kept under harsh conditions overnight at a police station.

Police countered the allegations by claiming that Yedidya Epstein, 14, is a provocateur and produced video footage the force said shows he was disturbing public order and ignoring police instructions, but was also fairly treated while in custody.

The Police Internal Investigations Department will look into the case of Epstein who was arrested, along with two others, Thursday night in the Old City of Jerusalem during an altercation between Jewish and Arab youths.

A photo of Epstein handcuffed and in leg irons at the police station was widely shared on social media in the days that followed.

In a round of interviews with Hebrew media, Epstein claimed that he was kept for hours in handcuffs and foot chains at a police station, against the law. He was later brought before a court which released him with restrictions.

He also claimed that, together with others, he was touring through the Old City when the group was set upon by Arab youths in the Muslim Quarter who insulted and taunted them. When Border Police arrived, Epstein claimed, they focused on dispersing the Jewish group and said he was roughly handled by officers. Cellphone footage from the incident shared on social media showed police pushing and dragging Epstein, with one officer carrying him in his arms along an Old City street.

While at the station, the teenager claimed, he was kept seated on a bench in irons, his father was not informed of his detention, and he was not given anything to eat or drink.

As a media outcry over Epstein’s alleged mistreatment ballooned, Israel Police responded Monday in a statement saying that Epstein and his companions had been provoking local residents and “in contrast to what has been published, the minor was hardly handcuffed at all during his time in the station, neither his hands or feet.”

Video provided by police showed the clash in the Old City, the Jewish group scuffling with officers, and various shots of Epstein while in custody at the police station

Police said that at that around 11 p.m. Thursday they received reports of a group of youths who were banging on doors and cursing local residents in the Muslim Quarter. Officers who arrived asked the Jewish youths to move away but Epstein and his companions instead sat down on the ground and refused to follow instructions, the statement said.

“Even though they were given enough time to move away, some of them continued to provoke and disrupt public order in the area,” police said.

“In complete contradiction to the unfounded claims that have been made, no force was used against the minor at the police station, rather the opposite,” the statement continued. “Officers watched over him while he was not handcuffed, gave him food and drink, and took care of his needs. Before he was questioned he consulted with an attorney and all his legal rights were preserved.”

Officers contacted Epstein’s father, who declined to come down to the station to see his son, the statement said.

While at the station, Epstein began to limp but when medics were summoned to attended to him he refused treatment, police said. At one point in during the night an officer saw that he was longer walking with a limp but “when the suspect understood that he was seen he went back to walking with a limp,” the statement noted.

Channel 12 news said Monday that Epstein was only put in handcuffs and leg chains when police prepared to bring him for a court hearing, as is standard practice for suspects considered a flight risk.

Epstein’s attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, welcomed the PIID investigation and said he would file a lawsuit against police.

“It is good that PIID opened an investigation, but in parallel we will file a civil lawsuit against the police,” Ben Gvir said, explaining that his client should have been held in youth detention center and not been forced to remain on a bench the whole night at the station.

His twin brother was detained Sunday for several hours after he was seen together with a group from the anti-gay Lehava organization in the vicinity of the Jerusalem Gay Pride event, the Ynet website reported.

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