8 police officers are indicted and suspended for a man’s death just after his arrest in Barcelona
Eight officers of the Catalan Police have been indicted by the judge and consequently temporarily suspended from active service by the Catalan Government, it was announced on Monday. The 8 policemen are suspected of beating up a middle-aged man while they were arresting him, causing his death, trying to destroy evidence and obstructing justice, according to the judicial report. The victim – gay businessman Juan Andrés Benítez – died a few hours after his arrest from a heart attack, allegedly provoked by 5 punches received on his head during his arrest. The case has generated significant controversy, since it is not the first time that Catalan Police have been involved in a violent abuse scandal. At the same time, the Spanish Police were requested to act as judiciary police and issue an investigation report on the facts.
Barcelona (ACN).- On Monday eight officers of the Catalan Police were indicted by the judge and consequently temporarily suspended from active service by the Catalan Government; they are suspected of beating up a middle-aged man while they were arresting him and causing his death. According to the judicial report, on a weekend evening in early October in Barcelona’s Raval neighbourhood, the 8 policemen allegedly punched and kicked the victim – the businessman Juan Andrés Benítez – while they were arresting him after a fight with another person, El Yazid. The victim died a few hours after his arrest from a heart attack, allegedly provoked by 5 punches received on his head, according to the autopsy and the judge’s report. Based on statements from witnesses, the videos recorded by them with their mobile phones and a report by the Spanish Police, the judge believes the 5 deadly punches were made during his arrest by Catalan Police officers. Furthermore, the involved policemen would have tried to clean up the blood on the ground and asked the neighbours to erase the recorded videos. Accordingly, the judge is indicting the 8 policemen for physical aggression, provoking Benítez’ death, trying to destroy evidence and consequently obstructing justice. When their indictment was announced, the Catalan Home Affairs Minister, Ramon Espadaler, announced their immediate suspension until the facts are totally clear.
Controversy around the Catalan Police
The videos recorded by the neighbours showing police officers surrounding a man on the flour and apparently beating him up have been released by several media during the investigation in the last few days. The brutality of the images has generated significant outrage and debate around the Catalan Policemen’s actions. In fact, the case of Benítez’s death has generated significant controversy, since it is not the first time that Catalan Police have been involved in a violent abuse scandal. A Catalan Parliament’s commission is ongoing analysing the use of rubber bullets by the Catalan Police’s anti-riot brigade, since seven people have lost an eye allegedly due to their use. In addition, in the last decade, several complaints have been filed for violent arrests or even beatings in the police station. Many proved to be false but others were true. During a few years, the Catalan Government set up video cameras inside the police stations to offer more guarantees to policemen against false complaints but also to people arrested against possible violence abuse. The cameras were dismantled three years ago, following requests from Catalan Police unions.
The Catalan Police (called ‘Mossos d’Esquadra’) started to assume police tasks in Catalonia in the late 1990s, precisely because many Catalan citizens felt totally alienated from the Spanish Police Force (CNP), which was associated with the repression during Franco’s Fascist dictatorship and had a significant record of police abuse. However, some parts of the Spanish establishment did not fully accept the police change in Catalonia. There have been attempts to discredit the Mossos d’Esquadra, as well as attempts to by-pass them and exclude them from investigations taking place in Catalonia. In fact, the Spanish Police (CNP) still have around 7,000 officers in Catalonia – without taking into account the Guardia Civil – and their number is growing in the last few months. Meanwhile, the Catalan Police comprises 17,000 individuals and does most of the police work except international organised crime cases (such as terrorism and drug trafficking networks), immigration-related cases and border control. In the Benítez case, the Spanish Police were requested by the judge to act as judiciary police and issue an investigation report on the facts, instead of using the Catalan Police internal affairs department. In Catalonia, Catalan Police normally act as judiciary police. This has also caused some controversy since some people see the inclusion of the Spanish Police in Benítez’s case as a way to further discredit the Catalan Police, although the decision was taken by the judge investigating the case.
The Catalan Government, which runs the law enforcement agency, asked last week for respect for the Mossos d’Esquadra Force and the ongoing investigation. The Catalan Minister for Home Affairs, Ramon Espadaler requested citizens “not to criminalise the entire Catalan Police” for this “isolated case”. However, he stated that if the judge was indicting the officers involved, they would suspend them from work and salary as a temporary and precautionary measure until the case is resolved.
The police union SME-CCOO accused the Catalan Government of acting in a precipitate way. Meanwhile, political reactions were varied. Spanish nationalist parties as well as the most left-wing ones were asking for the resignation of the Director of the Catalan Police, Manel Prat. The other parties, which represent the majority of the Catalan Parliament, had milder reactions although they asked for a full investigation and disclosure of the events. However they insisted that the Catalan Police should not be criminalised for an isolated case.
Benítez had a fight with another man
Juan Andrés Benítez, who owned a few business in Barcelona’s gay district (known as ‘Gaixample’), died in hospital a few hours after he had been arrested by the Catalan Police in Aurora street in the Raval neighbourhood of the Catalan capital. According to the autopsy, Benítez died from a heart attack caused by 5 punches on his head. The day after he died, Raval neighbours started to accuse the Catalan Police officers who had arrested him of having beaten him up and caused his death. Police arrested Benítez because he had been fighting on the street with another man, El Yazid. However, according to witnesses, when the Catalan Police arrived, the two men had stopped hitting each other. Furthermore, witnesses added that Benítez was not severely injured after the fight with El Yazid, although a witness stated that he was bleeding from his nose and another one said he had his face and t-shirt covered with blood. In fact, El Yazid had initially been indicted for Benítez’s death but on Monday the judge announced that he was no longer indicted. Suspicions are now directed towards the police officers.
Videos show police beating up Benítez during his arrest
When the Catalan Police arrived, they restrained Benítez since he was resisting arrest. This is when a group of policemen allegedly started to beat him up. The videos recorded by neighbours clearly show a group of policemen using physical force against Benítez, who was already lying on the ground. Then Benítez suffered a first cardio-respiratory crisis and Catalan paramedics had to resuscitate him. The resuscitation was successful in preventing death on the spot. Benitez was brought to the hospital but died a few hours later.
Witnesses recorded the police arrest with their mobile phones, which have been crucial for the investigation. A few witnesses directly accuse the Catalan Police of beating up the victim while he was already on the ground under arrest. Furthermore, some neighbours stated that police officers tried to clean the blood on the street caused by the arrest once the paramedics had left. In addition, one police officer is said to have asked them to erase the recorded videos, according to some witnesses.
Based on these witnesses, the judge is indicting the 8 policemen for physical aggression, causing Benítez’ death, trying to destroy evidence and consequently obstructing justice. The Catalan Police officers will testify before the judge on the 13th November. Then, the judge will decide whether to formally accuse them or not.