Police chief resigns over woman who lost eye during strike demonstrations

Report detailing actions of the Barcelona force was kept from regional department

Esther Quintana, who lost an eye during the November 14 strike.
Esther Quintana, who lost an eye during the November 14 strike.EL PAÍS

In less than a month, the interior department of Catalonia’s regional government has given three versions of the same story. But one fact remains clear: on November 14, during demonstrations stemming from the general strike that day, a woman called Ester Quintana lost an eye. What is yet to be clarified is whether she was struck by a projectile fired by the Mossos d’Esquadra regional police, or whether the object came from another source, as the authorities have argued.

The claims and counterclaims that so far characterize the case have cost the head of Catalonia’s regional interior department, Felip Puig, all credibility. And on Thursday, one of the Mossos police chiefs involved in the controversy, Sergi Pla, tendered his resignation.

What caused the injuries suffered by Quintana has become the crucial question, throwing into doubt the transparency of the Mossos and calling into question whether its political leaders can be trusted.

The latest version offered up by the Barcelona authorities is that the Catalan police did indeed fire their weapons in the area where Quintana lost her eye. Police sources say that officers launched projectiles at least six times between the Paseo de Gracia and other adjoining streets on that day. That information is confirmed in a police report dated November 21.

Ester Quintana ended up blind in one eye after being hit by a projectile

The region’s interior department admitted on Wednesday that their original claims that there was just one round and two blanks fired in the area where Ester Quintana was injured was untrue. The new version offered is that the police fired several foam rounds, which do not bounce when they hit the floor, unlike rubber bullets.

The day of the general strike ended with police charges in Barcelona’s Laietana area, after an alternative demonstration degenerated into disturbances. The next day interior chief Puig was asked about the injuries sustained by Quintana. He responded by saying that the police were investigating the facts but that no officer had fired a weapon around the Casp and Paseo de Gràcia streets, where she sustained the injuries that left her blind in her left eye.

On December 3, Puig spoke about the case once more in the Catalan parliament. Again he denied claims that any kind of shot was fired in that area, including crowd control rounds such as rubber bullets. Just two blank salvos were fired, he insisted.

That was Puig’s official line until last Thursday, when a video emerged showing an officer discharging his weapon just 100 meters from where Quintana was hurt. The revelation contradicted everything the interior chief had said up to that point, a situation that worsened the next day. On December 7, the chief of police, Manel Prat, called for explanations, and discovered that a police report dated November 21 confirmed what was clear from the video.

Whether or not the police caused her injuries is now the crucial question

Despite the evidence, the interior department is still insisting that Quintana was not hurt by a projectile fired by the police, and that the police did not use rubber bullets. The 42-year-old is in the process of taking the Mossos to court for her injuries, and the judge in charge of the case has requested all CCTV footage from the businesses in the area in an attempt to clarify what exactly struck her eye. The judge has also called for traffic-camera footage as well as reports on the activities of the riot officers on the day of the strike.

Quintana’s lawyers have supplied a number of images and photos in an attempt to demonstrate that the police are responsible for her injuries.

The chief of police, Manel Prat, has said that he is “disgusted” at the fact that Puig was not given the police report that contained information about the police charges that night, and has directly accused the Mossos chiefs of concealing it.

“In the chain of command, a report that we consider to be relevant was considered by one person to not be sufficiently relevant,” Prat told the TV3 regional channel. According to sources from the interior department, the report was delivered to the head of the Brigada Mòbil riot police unit, but was not passed any further up the chain of command.

A number of sources were already suggesting that the incident would lead to the resignation or sacking of one of the heads of the General Operation Resources unit, which is responsible for the riot police. And so it came to pass, with the announcement on Thursday that the head of that department, Sergi Pla, was to resign.

“Puig has a problem: either he’s lying, or he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in the Mossos,” said the ICV-EUiA deputy Jaume Bosch this week. “And that’s the result of his policy of arrogance that has characterized his legislature, scorning any criticism.”

Bosch also complained about the fact that Puig had given his explanations behind closed doors, and called on him to resign from his position before a new government is formed in the region.

Joining the chorus of criticism is the CCOO’s police labor union, which described the management of the case and the explanations offered as “unacceptable.” It also said that it was “irresponsible” for the interior department to criticize the Mossos and slammed Puig for not having taken the trouble to get all the information in the first place. “Puig’s word, and by extension, that of the interior department and the police, has been thrown into doubt.”

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