Jewish Journal


July 1, 2004

Burbank Police Kill Israeli Man


Stunned friends and family members are trying to make sense of the death of Assaf Deri, a 25-year-old Israeli who was shot and killed by Burbank police officers on June 25.

Friends say the sparse details in the police report do not fit the picture of the man they knew.

"He never had anything negative to say, he only knew to give and to help and to do and to love," said Nati Goldman, a close family friend. "He was smiling all the time, joking all the time. He was an amazing person. This is a very big loss and very hard to believe."

According to a police report, Deri was driving a car around 10:30 p.m. in a North Hollywood alley, when two Burbank police detectives stopped him in connection with a felony narcotics investigation.

The detectives say that they walked toward Deri's car, who then stepped on the gas and sideswiped one of the officers. Both detectives opened fire, wounding Deri, who was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

The shooting comes within weeks of a public outcry over excessive use of force by police, following the release of a videotape in which an LAPD officer is shown beating a handcuffed suspect with a flashlight. On June 20, a panel found that a November 2003 shootout in which a Burbank police officer and a suspect were killed did not violate department policy.

A similar panel will investigate the Deri shooting. The Burbank Police Department has opened an administrative investigation, examining whether officers followed proper procedures.

The Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide Division and the county district attorney's office are conducting parallel criminal investigations into Deri's shooting to determine the circumstances of the incident and whether officers were justified in their use of force.

Once all three reports have been concluded, the district attorney will decide whether to file charges against the officers.

These investigations are standard in any officer involved shooting. Police and district attorney spokespeople said no more information would be released until the conclusion of the investigations.

But friends and family members want more information now about the violent death of a man they say was warm, giving and happy, and could not have been involved in drugs or anything criminal.

"Assaf has never been in trouble and I can't believe the police story," Goldman said. "I can only assume that Assaf didn't realize what was happening when the police stopped him and that he got confused."

Goldman has hired a lawyer to investigate the case.

Deri's father, Pinchas Deri, an electrical contractor in Bet Shemesh, was two weeks into a six-week visit with his son when he was informed of his death Saturday morning.

The elder Deri was "in total shock, he doesn't believe it really happened," Goldman said.

The father and son had traveled to Las Vegas together, and had gone to Magic Mountain and Universal Studios, spending every minute they could together over the last two weeks. The elder Deri did not leave with his son after Shabbat dinner at the Goldman's house because Pinchas won't drive on Shabbat during the year he is mourning the death of his father, a pious Moroccan Jew.

Goldman's wife flew with Pinchas Deri back to Israel on Monday, when police finally released Assaf's body. He was buried in Israel on Tuesday.

Goldman said Assaf was a sensitive man with a girlfriend and many friends. In Israel he had served in an elite undercover unit with the border police working to thwart terrorists.

Goldman, who was best friends with Assaf's uncle in Israel, said that he met Deri three and a half years ago when Assaf joined his family for seder, soon after he arrived in the United States to work as a diamond salesman. He worked in New York for a few years, sending money to his parents and four siblings in Bet Shemesh. Deri was the oldest of five siblings -- three brothers aged 22, 18 and 14, and a 5-year-old sister.

He came to Los Angeles nine months ago, and was like a family member to the Goldmans and their three children, ages 12, 13 and 5. When Goldman suffered a heart attack while in Miami four months ago, it was Assaf who stepped up to take care of the family, driving carpools and making sure all their needs were met.

"He was an extraordinary person, taking care of everybody and loving everyone. He helped everyone. My kids looked at him like a big brother," Goldman said.

Goldman said that since Assaf's death hundreds of people have come over or called to offer sympathy, and friends prepared a memorial book to send home with Pinchas Deri.

Israeli Consul Yehoshua Avigdor, who helped arrange the Deris' return flight to Israel, said the consulate would pressure the police to provide more information.

"Nobody understands what happened, so we are just waiting for more details," Avigdor said.

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