For the first time a court has called into question the proportionality of the Spanish Police and Guardia Civil’s response to the 1 October referendum. Up until now certain examining magistrates have investigated members of the two police forces following reports of injuries to numerous voters during last year’s referendum. Now, however, a higher body, the Court of Barcelona, has decided to question the need for the police charges which occurred repeatedly on 1 October 2017 in various locations designated as polling stations. In reference to police behaviour in Sant Fruitós de Bages, the court speaks of “police excesses”, going on to say that, “we do not consider that it was necessary to strike with truncheons and employ unexpected, aggressive tactics against members of the public who were outside the polling station”.
The Court of Barcelona’s ruling —by a majority of two of the three judges which make up the court— orders the judge in Bages who had previously dropped the investigation into police baton charges at a school in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada to reopen the case. Among its arguments, the court concludes that, given the evidence gathered so far, the officers’ actions at the time were disproportionate since they ended up using force against the public, even though they “knew” that —should members of the public manage to vote— it wouldn’t have had any “legal consequences” as the referendum had been declared unconstitutional. As proof of this, the court recalls that “in other parts of Catalonia, the police took no action, the votes were cast and the results were given, with no legal consequences”.
The court ordered the Bages judge dealing with the case to carry out the investigations requested by both the prosecutor and the complainants. These included a cross-examination of the lieutenant responsible for the operation as a possible suspect, and for all the officers who took part in the incident to be named. The court admits that the latter is somewhat “complicated” given that the Civil Guards were not wearing their ID numbers and the complainants were unable to provide any alternative means of identifying them. Consequently, the court has also pointed out —and the judge will need to take into account the fact— that the Secretary of State for Security drafted a report on the security forces deployed in Bages on 1-O, identifying the officers who took part, the verbal and written instructions they were issued, and any protocols regarding the use of truncheons and body armour.
14 people were slightly injured by the security forces at the school in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada [being used as a polling station]. According to the court, a detachment of Guardia Civil officers attempted to gain access via a ramp on the right-hand side of the school. When they failed, a second contingent of officers advanced up a ramp on the left, where numerous members of the public were gathered, and “with not the slightest warning” and “without attempting to get them to step away from the door”, they struck them with their truncheons. When the voters moved aside, the Civil Guards smashed the windows of the school with a mallet in order to gain access. According to the court, one of the first officers to enter the premises received “the impact of a chair thrown from afar”, which they consider could be considered an assault on a police officer.
The intention was not to close the polling station
The ruling by the Court of Barcelona reaches the conclusion that it is not possible that the objective of the Civil Guards who were dispatched to the school in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada was to close the polling station, since after carrying out the police charge and seizing certain material, they “left” the school without leaving anyone behind to stand guard.
Although the judges appreciate that “it was necessary to use force to enter the building”, they do not believe that “it was necessary” to use it on the members of the public who were outside the school. The court concludes that, “It would have been possible to achieve the same result, although it would have taken longer, removing them by force, by pushing or dragging them”, considering that in this way no one would have been injured.
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