Spain: Guardia Civil accused of cover-up death in custody case


On 11 August 2005, the Spanish interior minister Juan Antonio Alonso appeared before the Congreso (the parliament in Madrid) to report on the events surrounding the death of Juan Martínez Galdeano in the Guardia Civil station in Roquetas del Mar (Almería) on 24 July. Alonso provided a round-up of available information and of ongoing investigations and disciplinary measures. His statement included a detailed reconstruction of the images caught on a CCTV camera outside the station and included charges that the Guardia Civil in Roquetas del Mar had attempted to cover up information.

Translation of selected extracts:

"… today, it is already impossible to ignore an incontrovertible fact: a citizen who arrived at a police centre volutarily on his own in initiative experienced his death, inside the centre, after a long, violent encounter in which up to nine police officers took part, among whom was the leading officer in charge of the police unit".

"… on the evening of Sunday 24, aroung 17:00 hours, the second lieutenant instructing the case and the appointed commander [responsible for] carrying out this internal and reserved report travel to Roquetas and undertake their first activities, among which is the viewing of the closed-circuit television cassette of the station and, apparently, they do not see - as they say - any relevant fact because, as they were informed at the time - and we will talk about this subject - in the barrack-station by one of the guardias involved, the moments when Mr. Martínez Galdeano was restrained were in an area that was hidden from the view of the mentioned closed-circuit recording [system]. Something that turned out not to be true, as we will see later".

"…On the 25th, between 21 and 22 hours, I am called … by the government delegate in Andalusia and he tells me that, in the video, it is possible to see blows, the use of at least one electric truncheon and [informs me] of the decision to transfer the lieutenant from his post… I instruct him to pass all the available information that he has to me, in writing, which the government delegate does on the morning of the 26th, when I also talk to the general director of the Guardia Civil, who confirms the information… telling me that, effectively, at least one electric truncheon was used, that blows have been struck and that there may be aspects that obviously need to be clarified, very far beyond those that were known about previously".

"While he was being restrained on the ground, the plain-clothed lieutenant of the station appears, who, equipped with a defense [instrument], apparently rigid, of a telescopic type in one hand and with an electric defence [instrument] in the other, starts to restrain the detainees with defence [instrument] blows and electric discharges, at the same time as the detainee kicked out and made sharp body movements. After several minutes' struggle, one observes how he is dragged outside of the view of the camera, remaining in the courtyard until medical personnel appear around 20 minutes afterwards".

Account that follows the viewing of the entire tape by the commander conducting the investigation and drafting the report, quoted by Alonso:

"At 17.16 hours one can observe in the images, towards the front part of the vehicle, the appearance of the prisoner, handcuffed with his hands in front of him and only wearing underwear, who is being restrained by four other guardias civiles who are leaning over him as they attempt to hold him to the floor, at the same time as he can be seen defending himself.

Seconds later the lieutenant Rivas appears on the scene dressed in plain clothes and, equipped with a truncheon in his right hand, as can be appreciated, of a rigid telescopic kind and an electric defence [instrument] in the left hand begins to strike the detainee with both of them, at the same time as a female guardia civil [officer] hits him with a defence [instrument] of the regulamentary type on the legs. During two minutes one can observe how the lieutenant strikes the detainee repeatedly with both defence [instruments], at least seven times with each of them, on the legs, arms and upper body, while the rest look on or hold him with their hands as the lieutenant orders some to leave the station… apparently to go to the medical centre and to leave the road clear of possible onlookers.

The detainee - and I am continuing to quote - reacts to the blows and [electric] discharges while they continue to hold him by his hands, which they drag until they move outside of the view of the cameras at 17.18 hours. Subsequently, at 17.43 hours one can see the arrival of medical staff from the health centre, and of the 061 [ambulance service] at 17.44 hours".

"…As a conclusion in this internal report, the following considerations are included about the observed conduct by the lieutenant chief of the Roquetas del Mar station. First, that the lieutenant used two defence [instruments] that are not regulamentary, as is the case for the electric and rigid telescopic ones. Secondly, that the lieutenant ignored these circumstances in his statement made on the 24th when, asked by the investigator about the means used to restrain the detainee, he claimed that only strength, regulamentary rubber defence [instruments], as well as a spray which is part of their standard equipment, had been used".

Full-text of the intervention before the Spanish Congreso in Madrid on 11 August 2005 by interior minister José Antonio Alonso in relation to the death of José Martínez Galdeano in the Guardia Civil station of Roquetas del Mar (link, El Mundo newspaper)

Previous coverage of this case from Statewatch bulletin, vol. 15 no. 3/4 (May-August 2005)

Nine Guardia Civil officers suspended in death in custody case

The death in a Guardia Civil station in Roquetas de Mar (Almería) of Juan Martínez Galdeano, a 39-year-old farmer who had gone to the station because of a road accident in which he had been involved on 24 July 2005, resulted in nine officers, including the lieutenant in charge, being suspended for six months pending an internal investigation into the beating suffered by the man, which was a direct cause of his death, according to the autopsy. The man reportedly went to the station to seek protection from some Roma with whom he had had an accident and admitted that he had been consuming drugs previously. Police sources claimed that he reacted in an exalted manner when the Guardia Civil wanted to breathalise him, and that the blows suffered by the man resulted from efforts to restrain him. It subsequently emerged that two non-regulation truncheons were used by the officers to subdue him, one of them electric and the other one extendable. Following his resistance, he was detained for “challenging and resisting authority”, and the
events leading to his death apparently took place as the officers tried to make Galdeano get into a van to be transferred, in the street in front of the Guardia Civil station, when he was violently beaten, according to eye witnesses. The autopsy spoke of an “acute respiratory or cardio-respiratory insufficiency”, and that the death was related to the man being restrained on his back and pressured on his chest. The injuries suffered included a broken
sternum, a dislocated rib and bruises to almost every part of his body, including some that were caused by truncheon blows.

A lawyer representing some of the officers argued that the violence was “proportionate in the circumstances” and that “there was no active violence”, adding that there may be parallel causes for the death, in a possible reference to the victims’ use of drugs. The lawyer for the victim’s family claimed that the autopsy reveals “that the death was a result of the beating that they gave him, because the body has evidence of blows on all its limbs”. Events outside of the station have reportedly been recorded by a CCTV camera, and eye-winesses have also claimed seeing the Guardia Civil officers, some of whom were reportedly injured in the incident, beating him with kicks and punches, and reacting by placing their hands on their heads when they realised he had died.

A complaint for ill-treatment in custody against the officer in charge was reportedly filed in February 2005 by the father of a man who “was detained and ill-treated by the Guardia Civil lieutenant of Roquetas del Mar”, and beaten while he was handcuffed, according to the text of the complaint. The man
argued that no inquiries had followed the complaint. The head of the Guardia Civil, Carlos Gómez Arruche, argued that the officer’s record was clean, and minimised the significance of the use of truncheons, whose use was not authorised by saying that “they are not weapons, but rather defence [instruments], which are used in some countries and not in others”. Nonetheless, he announced that the officers involved had been suspended for six
months.

El País, 2-5.8.2005.



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