It looked like just another ordinary afternoon at the emergency department of the hospital in La Línea de la Concepción, in southern Spain. But that was until a group of around 20 masked individuals stormed the building and forcibly removed an alleged drug trafficker who was awaiting treatment while under police custody.
Anti-drug group Nexos
It happened on Tuesday afternoon, in full view of hospital workers and patients who stared in disbelief as the scene unfolded. The two police officers in charge of the injured suspect managed to arrest one member of the gang. A search operation is underway to locate the others.
Interior Minister Juan Antonio Zoido has denied that law enforcement lacks the resources to effectively fight drug trafficking in the area. But the United Left (IU) and Ciudadanos parties want Zoido to make a congressional appearance to explain the situation, while the police union UFP has complained about “the lack of personnel and resources” in a city with a population of 60,000 and “a high crime rate.”
The suspect had been taken to hospital after being injured during a car chase, sources at the National Police have confirmed. The arrest took place early Tuesday afternoon, when a patrol car noticed an individual identified as S. C. D., a known member of a criminal gang that goes by the name Los Castañitas.
He was a familiar face to law-enforcement agencies, who had been looking for him. When he realized he had been identified, S. C. D. jumped on his motorcycle and sped away, but fell off his vehicle in an area known as El Zabal, a hot-spot for drugs in the city. He sustained injuries to his face and one of his legs, and the officers took him to the hospital for treatment.
While the suspect and the officers sat in the waiting room, several four-wheel-drive vehicles began arriving outside the ER. Around 20 masked individuals got out and aggressively made their way into the facilities, then grabbed their colleague and ran off after a scuffle with the officers, according to police sources.
Despite the use of force, no bystanders were injured although everyone was “feeling obviously jittery,” said hospital sources.
In 2017, the police union UFP filed 68 requests for more personnel and equipment, including four-wheel-drive vehicles. Another seven petitions have been made so far this year. Meanwhile the SUP, another police union, has underscored the need to create a specific Crime Prevention and Reaction Unit (UPR) for La Línea de la Concepción, as well as a Special Response Group for Organized Crime (GRECO) and a court specializing in drug crimes.
In June, a tobacco smuggler caused an accident that resulted in the death of a local police officer
These organizations note that officers “are risking their lives on a daily basis” in an area where drug rings have become increasingly bold and violent in recent years.
“For a long time now we have been witnessing how drug traffickers are losing their respect [for authorities],” said a source at Nexos, an umbrella group for several anti-drug associations. This group has long been denouncing the apparent impunity with which drug gangs operate in this part of Spain, which is strategically located along a route across the Strait of Gibraltar.
Lately, when drug traffickers are caught with a shipment on the beach, they no longer run away from the police but request assistance from paid aides who hurl stones at the officers instead. Other times, they ram patrol cars with large four-wheel drive vehicles to push them off the road.
On June 8, 2017, a tobacco smuggler on a motorcycle caused an accident that resulted in the death of a local police officer in La Línea, near the border with Gibraltar. This moved authorities to increase the police presence on Campo de Gibraltar, but police unions insist that greater numbers are required.
English version by Susana Urra.