Director of Catalan Police resigns after series of controversial episodes
Manel Prat, General Director of the Mossos d’Esquadra – the Catalan police force – resigned on Tuesday evening “for personal reasons”. He took this step the day before the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) were due to file a request to the Catalan Parliament to hold a debate on his resignation. Prat took office in January 2011 and the Catalan Police has since been involved in a series of controversies related to the excessive use of force, which in some cases may have had grievous consequences, including demonstrators losing eyes from a rubber bullet and the death of individuals in police custody. Legal investigations are still ongoing and therefore formal sentences have not been issued in these cases, but there is much evidence to indicate that the Catalan Police’s actions are likely to have been out of order. On top of this, there have been many shadows cast on the Mossos’ internal investigations and disciplinary processes. However, Prat denied he was resigning because of these episodes.
Barcelona (ACN).- Manel Prat, General Director of the Mossosd\u2019Esquadra \u2013 the Catalan police force \u2013 resigned on Tuesday evening \u201Cfor personal reasons\u201D. He has taken this step the day before the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) were to present a formal request to the Catalan Parliament to hold a debate on his resignation. Prat took office in January 2011 and during the years since, the Catalan Police have been involved in a series of controversies and scandals related to the excessive use of force, which in some cases have had grievous consequences, including the death of people in police custody and demonstrators losing eyes from rubber bullets. Judicial investigations are still ongoing for the most serious cases and therefore formal sentences have not yet been issued, but there is much evidence to indicate that the actions of the Catalan Police are very likely not to have been in order. On top of this, there have been many doubts cast on the Mossos\u2019 internal investigations and disciplinary processes relating to some of these cases. In a press conference, Prat announced his \u201Cirrevocable resignation\u201D and denied he was taking this step because of these episodes. However, he issued an apology \u201Cto those [he] may have harmed\u201D. Catalan Home Affairs Minister Ramon Espadaler, who took office in December 2012, praised Prat\u2019s work and stated he had been \u201Can exceptional\u201D Director of the Mossos d\u2019Esquadra. This force is the main police in Catalonia, in charge of public security, criminal and judicial investigations, prisons and traffic control. There are also local police forces, such as Barcelona\u2019s Guardia Urbana, which is in charge of issues relating to petty crime and urban public order; the Spanish Police force, in charge of ID and passports registers, immigration supervision and crimes with links beyond Catalonia, such as terrorism and organised crime; and finally, the Spanish Gendarmerie, called the Guardia Civil, which is in charge of border control at airports and ports.
In the past few years, the Catalan Police have been involved in several controversies for its alleged excessive use of force, including episodes which have had deadly consequences. For instance, last autumn, a man died a few hours after he had been arrested by the Mossos d’Esquadra in Barcelona’s Raval neighbourhood. Several witnesses testified that Catalan Police officers forced the man to the ground and then began to hit him. The man fell unconscious and was taken to hospital, where he died a few hours later. In addition to this, some officers allegedly tried to dispose of evidence, such as bloodstains on the floor and videos taken on cell phones. An internal investigation brought poor results and the disciplinary measures were seen by many civil society organisations and political parties as being too soft, if not non-existent. A trial has not yet taken place and therefore no official statements in relation to these events have been issued, but the judge initial report states that police officers were responsible for the man's death. There are, in addition, many fishy aspects of this case and a person has died and complete clarification of what happened is necessary.
Two similar cases of possible police brutality occurred this spring when two people died on the same night, in two separate incidents, both while being detained by the Catalan Police. However, in those cases, it must be said that the reaction of the Catalan Police was more transparent than in the Raval case. On top of this, several police officers were indicted for a man's death in El Vendrell (near Tarragona) police station last July. There are also several cases of minor aggressions particularly concentrated in specific police stations, where several detainees accuse Mossos officers of having hit them and insulted them while in custody or when they were about to be arrested.
However, it is the actions of the riot police which have caused the greatest controversy. Firstly, a few months after Manel Prat took office, the Catalan Police intervened to empty Catalunya Square from protesters. Since the 15th of May 2011, the so-called Indignados (‘The outraged’) had been camping on Madrid and Barcelona’s Sol and Catalunya squares. The protest was replicated in many other cities throughout Catalonia and Spain, but Madrid and Barcelona were the centres of what started to be known as ‘the Spanish Spring’. People were protesting against the financial crisis and its effects such as the austerity measures, home evictions, high unemployment rates, etc. They were also protesting against the economic and political systems, brainstorming to create a new order. After weeks of camping on the squares, the Catalan Police intervened. The Mossos Riot Brigade did manage to empty the square, but there were controversial images of officers hitting unarmed protesters. In addition, protesters occupied the squares once again. The intervention caused a great controversy and the next time the Riot Police intervened there were many people video taping their action.
There is also a particularly controversial episode in which a woman lost an eye from the impact of what, according to many reports, was a rubber bullet fired by the Catalan Police. On the evening of 14 November 2012, the day of the European General Strike, Ester Quintana was in Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, where a demonstration had just taken place. A small group of protesters had broken street furniture and shop windows and the riot police intervened. There had already been other cases in which people had lost an eye in Catalonia over the past years due to the use of such ammunition, and all evidence leads one to think that it happened again in this instance. Ester Quintana, whom was on her way home and not participating in the violent protest, lost an eye that evening after a rubber bullet hit her in the face. The controversy became bigger after the Catalan Police initially denied that they had used rubber bullets and then subsequently denied that they had shot such ammunition near the place were Ester Quintana was passing by. Felip Puig, Catalan Home Affairs Minister since December 2010, was given another portfolio in the new Cabinet that took office in December 2012. However, Manel Prat stayed as the General Director of the Mossos d’Esquadra, being confirmed by the new Minister Ramon Espadaler, despite the Quintana case and previous controversies. Meanwhile, there was a parliamentary committee analysing the use of rubber bullets and it was decided to stop using this amunition as from last April.
In late 2012, Manel Prat stated that he would resign if it was proved that Quintana had lost the eye because the Mossos had shot her with a rubber bullet. In early May of this year, the judge investigating the case concluded that she had lost the eye because of a rubber bullet shot by the Catalan Police. Three weeks ago, Prat did not resign, but he is doing so now. However, this Tuesday evening he said he is not resigning because of Ester Quintana’s cases, but “for strictly personal reasons”. On Wednesday, the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) was due to file a formal petition asking for his resignation, to be debated in the Catalan Parliament. In his farewell as Director, Prat thanked his superiors and stated it had been “an immense honour” managing the Mossos d’Esquadra. Ramon Espadaler praised him and said he had been “an exceptional” General Director of the Catalan Police.