Documentary accusing Barcelona local authorities of wrongdoing in police abuse case in 2006 sparks great controversy
The broadcast of a documentary entitled ‘Ciutat Morta’ (Dead City) has caused great controversy in Barcelona. The film narrates the events of the 4th of February 2006, when the eviction of a building ended with a policeman being left a quadriplegic and a number of detainees. The film, which has been aired by the main channel of the Catalan Public Television Broadcaster (TV3), uncovers political, judicial and law enforcement irregularities, while at the same time presenting accusations of torture allegedly carried out by two members of the Barcelona local police. The case, which was poorly covered by the mainstream media at that time, has caused outrage in Catalonia almost 9 years after the event because of the serious nature of the accusations and the tragic consequences it had for some of the people involved in it.
Barcelona (ACN).- The broadcast of a documentary called ‘Ciutat Morta’ (Dead City) has caused great controversy in Barcelona. The film narrates the events of the 4th of February 2006, when the eviction of a building ended with a policeman being left a quadriplegic and a number of detainees. The film, which was aired by the main channel of the Catalan Public Television Broadcaster (TV3) in January, uncovers political, judicial and law enforcement irregularities, at the same time as presenting accusations of torture allegedly carried out by two members of the Barcelona local police. The documentary obtained a 20% viewing share after a judge censored 5 minutes of the material on the day of the broadcast. The case, which was poorly covered by the mainstream media at that time, has caused outrage in Catalonia almost 9 years after the event because of the serious nature of the accusations and the tragic consequences it had for some of the people involved in it, one of whom took her own life.
Up to a few weeks ago, most people in Barcelona did not know anything about the 4th of February 2006. Maybe some of them, if they tried hard to remember, would link that date to the riots at St. Pere Més Baix Street (near the Palau de la Música), which ended with the detention and later sentencing of three men and a young woman, called Patricia Heras. They were accused of causing a riot and throwing the rock that resulted in an officer from the Barcelona local police becoming a quadriplegic. This was the official version, supported by the judge and backed up by the City Council, and it was also the unquestioned version shown by the media at the time. Those condemned, except from Patricia Heras, who committed suicide during prison parole, served their sentences. In one case, this was no less than five years in prison.
Just a few others - the prisoners themselves, their families, their lawyers and NGOs like Amnesty International - maintained a different version of the story. This alternative view, that remained forgotten for almost a decade, has become widespread since last January because of the airing of ‘Ciutat Morta’ by the Catalan Public Television Broadcaster. Its directors, Xavier Artigas and Xapo Ortega, did not expect the controversy that the broadcast of the documentary has sparked. “The truth is that we didn’t expect it, and we were the first to be surprised, because there is a group of people that have been protesting for nine years. That said, we are very happy about the repercussions it has had”.
The film accuses local police of several irregularities
‘Ciutat Morta’ unveils a series of political irregularities that come with the 4F case. One of the most evident of them was the change of statement by Joan Clos, the Mayor of Barcelona in 2006, who in the beginning declared that the policeman’s injuries were caused by a flower pot thrown from a high window, and later said that they were caused by a rock, corroborating the version of the police. Police irregularities are personified in the agents Víctor Bayona and Bakari Samyang, accused of torture by the defendants, and later imprisoned for the same charges in a different process, when they tortured the son of a Trinidad and Tobago diplomat. Their version of events of the night of the 4th of February was crucial in the sentence of the defendants.
The documentary also shows judicial irregularities, denouncing that in the instruction of the case there was no guarantee of neutrality, exemplified by the refusal to accept crucial evidence by the pre-trial judge and her refusal to take into account witnesses called by the accused. On this issue, a law professor at the University of Barcelona, Joan Queralt, said on Catalan public television, that the whole process was marred. “The court that previously judged the 4F case already knew the evidence that was in the previous investigation because it had analysed them before. This is an irregularity in the judicial system and is intolerable.”
One of the detainees committed suicide during a parole
The issue that has created most of the controversy was the suicide of Patricia Heras. Heras always claimed that she was not even present at the St. Pere Més Baix street incident. She said she suffered severe injuries after falling from her bike with a friend in another part of the city, and because of this she ended up in a hospital, the same one where the policemen were. They had brought the detainees from the incident there from police custody, where the young men claimed they had been tortured. Heras was detained right there in the hospital and accused of being part of the group that attacked the police. Until her final day, she always maintained that she was not at the place where the incidents occurred and told the police they were making a big mistake attributing the crime to her.
After hearing about Patricia Heras suicide in the documentary aired this last January, local citizens have widely criticised the case. These feelings were encapsulated in the large demonstration that took place on 4th of February. The motto was “Patricia Heras, we don’t forget, we don’t pardon”, and some of the assistants stamped her name and a drawing of her face on the façade of an old cinema that is now closed. At the end of the demonstration, the protesters honoured her in front of the Barcelona City Hall main building.
The current authorities decided not to reopen the case
The controversy caused by the broadcast of the documentary has forced the City Hall to open a formal inquiry to investigate if there is new evidence to allow the case to be reopened, an attitude that Xavier Artigas, one of the makers of the documentary, calls “really hypocritical” because “some of them participated in this case and now are stepping back and distancing themselves”, referring to the eco-socialist Catalan party Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV), which was part of the local government coalition at that time and is now requesting the reopening of the case. Artigas adds that “it is sad that this happens because of a documentary when the political leaders of those parties, having all the evidence in front of them, didn’t act. But we applaud the move and it seems fantastic that at least all of them agree on this topic.”
The film, which was released in late 2013, was not screened until this January on the Catalan public television. It has won several awards, such as the Best Documentary at the Málaga Film Festival and the Amnesty International award at the Barcelona Human Rights Film Festival.
In any case, the public prosecution found that ‘Ciutat Morta’ did not give any evidence for reopening the case, an opinion backed by Catalonia's Supreme Court (TSJC), which emphasised that the case has already been judged. According to Artigas this is a mistake because “we don’t have to go to the end of the process and add more evidence, but instead, go to the beginning and accept all the evidence that was presented and refused. I believe that the public accusation needs to go backwards, not forwards.”
The Catalan Ombudsman finds police irregularities, in a report from late February 2015
On Monday the 23th of February 2015, the Catalan Ombudsman office released a report denouncing police irregularities. One of the main findings was that the Barcelona police force lost the detention register in February 2006, a document that every police office has and reflects everything that happens to the detainees. “Our surprise is that when we required this register, the City Hall said that it didn’t exist”, says Jordi Sánchez, General Deputy at the Ombudsman office.
Sánchez also added that once the detainees were brought to the hospital after being in police custody the doctors observed that they had multiple contusions, and three hours later, when they were brought to another hospital, the doctors observed that one of them had a head wound and needed three stitches. “If we rule out the hypothesis that the doctors didn’t notice the injuries, then we could wonder how a person that was in police custody had suffered these injuries, when there’s nothing in the police report denoting an accident that could cause the injury”. The other element they are critical of is that in 2006 the City Hall did not start any internal investigation to find out if these detainees had suffered abuse, which is compulsory according to international treaties.
The current City Council does not see any wrongdoing in the 2006 case
The following day, the 24th of February, Barcelona's First Deputy Mayor Joaquim Forn released the City Hall report on the case. According to him, there was not any wrongdoing in the case, despite some “small irregularities”, such as for example, the loss of the detainee register. City Hall unveiled a 12-step improvement compromise for the Barcelona police force, including measures such as integrating video cameras in the police vehicles, and the creation of an independent ethics committee. According to the Barcelona police force spokesman, Sergi Sabaté, measures are planned “to improve the system, not because something has happened. It is not related to the 4F, it is related to our report”. Concerning the loss of the detainee register, he points out that “this would be investigated internally, but is not enough for reopening the case”.
On the other hand, according to filmmaker Artigas, the eventual reopening of the 4F case will imply pointing the finger at a lot of state authorities. “It would mean that the police lied in front of a judge, but also that a lot of politicians and the media have been covering up this case with the complicity of the law system, which has shown severe irregularities. It is not only a question of some rotten apples, of two policemen that need to leave the force, it is about a whole system that has contributed to making up this case from scratch”.