Police officers accused of blinding woman in one eye with rubber bullet acquitted

Court rules it is “impossible” to know who fired shots during general strike demonstration in 2012

Ester Quintana after learning of the court's ruling.
Ester Quintana after learning of the court's ruling.J. Sánchez

A Spanish court has acquitted two police officers accused of responsibility for an incident in which a woman lost an eye when security forces used rubber bullets to disperse crowds demonstrating during the general strike of November 2012.

“It is not possible to establish exactly what hit the victim, nor who fired,” ran the ruling issued by a court in Barcelona, where the incident took place.

I have waited four years to get justice and I have failed. All our work has been of no use in fighting impunity Esther Quintana

In May 2014, a court ruled that Ester Quintana was hit by a projectile fired by members of the Mossos d’Esquadra Catalan regional police force during a demonstration on November 14, 2012. At the time, Spain was in the grip of a worsening economic crisis, prompting hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country to take to the streets to protest Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s labor-reform package and austerity measures.

During the trial of the two officers, their defense team focused on “reasonable doubt” as to whether Quintana was hit by a rubber bullet or another projectile. The officer accused of firing a shotgun at Quintana insisted during the hearing that he fired blanks while attempting to clear the area where Quintana was injured, suggesting, without naming names, that another officer was responsible.

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Catalan police have always denied firing rubber bullets that day, and the case triggered a government ban on the use of rubber bullets. Instead, riot police now use rifles that fire visco-elastic foam pellets.

“It is impossible to establish whether the projectile that hit Ester Quintana was a rubber bullet or a 40mm foam pellet,” reads the court’s ruling.

The judges were critical of the Mossos during the demonstration, noting: “The officers carrying shotguns and launchers knew that they were breaching protocols.” They added: “These protocols are to avoid unfortunate events such as this, which has resulted in Ester Quintana suffering injuries and side effects that without doubt will continue to affect her for the rest of her life.”

Speaking from outside the court after the ruling was made public, Quintana said: “I have waited four years to get justice and I have failed. All our work has been of no use in fighting impunity.”

Quintana was awarded €261,000 in compensation by the Catalan regional interior department shortly before the hearing

She criticized the judges’ decision, saying there was sufficient evidence to show she was injured by a rubber bullet, saying that the regional government’s interior department should have carried out a more “careful” investigation into what happened on November 14, 2012.

Her lawyer, Laia Serra, also criticized the court’s decision: “The confusion among the police officers concerned should have responsibilities, if not criminal, then at least at the political level. It is obvious that not everything has come out in court and those responsible for what happened have not been identified. There can be no more impunity in this country. The whole of Catalonia wants to know the truth.”

Quintana was awarded €261,000 in compensation by the Catalan regional interior department shortly before the hearing. The court’s ruling is not final, and can be appealed before the Catalan Supreme Court.

The Catalan regional police force has been criticized in recent years following a series of high-profile cases involving allegations of unnecessary force.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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