Twenty months after Roger Español lost an eye to a rubber bullet fired by Spanish police at the Ramon Llull polling station during Catalonia’s self-determination referendum, the identity of the shooter still remained unknown. The judge who leads the probe into the baton charges by Spanish riot police in Barcelona city had summoned all eleven gunners deployed in the area where Español was shot and every single one of them denied having fired the round. But now an expert’s report commissioned by Irídia, the Catalan human rights group that provides Español’s legal counsel, has managed to identify the officer by name and ID number.
The report has been written by an independent criminology expert who has combed through the footage and images taken around the time when Roger Español was wounded. The material was collected and poured over by Irídia staff for more than one year and the NGO has estimated that about 1,800 man-hours were required to complete the job. The investigation’s starting point was the video footage recorded by the shooter himself, which is part of the court case and Español’s defence was able to procure. While the video showed the officer’s front, his police ID number —stencilled on the back of his uniform— wasn’t visible. The expert compared the officer’s appearance to the other shooters’, ruling out all but two of them, thanks to the kit [they were wearing on the day]. He then went on to use computer software to compare the height and heft of the two remaining officers until only one was left: officer number UC563, the policeman which Irídia claims is Español’s shooter.
Español’s lawyer, Anaïs Franquesa, has revealed that the footage they have analysed shows that, after Español had been shot and was lying on the ground, two other Spanish police officers “kept firing on the people who had come to his aid”. For this reason, Franquesa explained, they intend to ask the examining judge who sits on the bench of Barcelona’s examining court 7 and is tasked with probing 41 police officers involved in baton charges on October 1 in Barcelona to summon the police superintendent who commanded the operation at the Ramon Llull polling station. The shooter who has now been named has already appeared in court as a defendant and is still facing charges.
Roger Español emphasised the hurdles laid by the Spanish police force to prevent the shooter from being identified. “Impunity is pervasive in Spain’s justice system and police force, which is an absolute ordeal for the victims”. Español referred to all the people who have been injured by rubber bullets, a type of round that was banned in Catalonia in the wake of the Ester Quintana case, but is still being used by Spanish police.
Lying in court
When he was questioned in court, the shooter who has now been named denied having fired the rubber bullet. He also claimed that he was elsewhere at the time. In Franquesa’s view, the expert’s report proves that the officer “lied”, as did the other police gunners who were in the vicinity and presumably chose to protect their colleague because —according to Español’s lawyer— they knew who had pulled the trigger. This is the first time in Spain that a police officer has been identified after wounding a member of the public with a rubber bullet. In Ester Quintana’s case, for example, this didn’t occur and the two Catalan police officers who had been indicted were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
Both Franquesa and lawyer Andrés Garcia Berrio referred to the fact the police officers didn’t bear their police ID number “clearly visible” on the front and the back of their uniform as “an anomaly”. They also highlighted the fact that, ultimately, it was down to Irídia to identify the police officer, despite being an NGO whose resources are much more limited than those of the police force, the justice system and the Prosecutor’s Office. Franquesa remarked that “in the end, we have had to do the job of the judiciary and, in particular, of the police force”. That’s why she insisted on the importance of securing the public’s support and collaboration to ensure that Irídia’s activities can be sustained.