Catalan police wants more legal protection for riot officers

His address was aimed at a parliamentary committee analyzing the use of rubber bullets

Rebeca Carranco
Barcelona -

The chief inspector of the Mossos d'Esquadra Catalan police is asking regional lawmakers for greater legal security for riot officers who are now vulnerable to criminal charges for following orders they cannot question.

Josep Lluis Trapero on Thursday told the regional parliament that the anti-riot system used in Catalonia, based on progressive use of force and unit specialization, is "technically the most appropriate" in view of available manpower.

His address was aimed at a parliamentary committee analyzing the use of rubber bullets by riot police, in the wake of a high-profile case in which a demonstrator lost an eye last year, apparently after being accidentally hit by one of these crowd control devices.

"The police use force, never violence," said Trapero. "Violence is exercised by isolated individuals in an illegitimate use of force. It is an important nuance that puts everyone in their place."

The chief inspector also noted that the police structure is hierarchical and that a riot officer's job is to execute orders or face disciplinary measures. Despite this, some Mossos are facing charges for allegedly wounding demonstrators. Trapero said officers should not be held responsible for the results of actions they had no power of decision over. He added that if the officer failed to follow the established protocol, however, he should be liable for prosecution.

In the case of rubber bullets, the protocol says officers first have to fire them at the ground for safety. But once they ricochet off the ground, their trajectory becomes erratic. According to preliminary court investigations, it was one of these bullets that took out Ester Quintana's left eye during the Barcelona strike of November 14, 2012.

Nine blinded

Quintana has since become the most visible figure in a popular initiative to ban the use of these weapons, which have left nine people partially or completely blind in recent years. On June 14, she uploaded a photograph of herself on Facebook that clearly showed her gaping eye socket.

"In these last seven months I have discovered I am a strong, brave person, more so than I used to think, although physical and psychological recovery is very slow," she wrote. "Hatred, resentment and fury are words and feelings I know well. We will continue to fight to get these bullets banned... Watch out for your eyes."

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