Most people Spanish police officers encountered at polling stations in the 2017 referendum showed “highly violent” behavior, the head of of Spain’s National Police in Catalonia at the time told the Supreme Court on Thursday. Testifying in the trial of Catalan independence leaders, Sebastián Trapote admitted “there were some vulnerable people” present, but added that some reports said Spanish officers had to retreat “due to the violence” of voters.
Trapote began his testimony saying prosecutors told officials to take appropriate steps to stop the referendum, and to “aid” the Catalan police, but also to have “the necessary units” in case they had to act on their own. Early on the day of the vote on October 1, Trapote says he spoke to the coordinator of the operation (Diego Pérez de los Cobos), who, after speaking to the secretary of state (José Antonio Nieto), told him to enforce “plan B.”
That meant “replacing the Catalan police” in the operation to prevent the referendum. When officers got to polling stations, Trapote said they found “citizens gathered outside the schools to halt the police operation.”
“Everything was perfectly organized”
“Everything was perfectly organized,” said Trapote, who added: “There were calls [to attend schools], they blockaded our way, made human chains, they attacked us, pushed us…” Trapote also suggested Spanish police had public safety in mind. Giving an example at a Barcelona school, he said “police gave up the operation” on the grounds that “it could cause serious injury to both officers and the public.”
Yet he added: “We wanted to guarantee the collective safety, but there comes a point where this is impossible and a minimum amount of force has to be deployed.”
Catalan police plan “was not valid”
The official also commented on the Catalan police. Trapote said he was “never made aware” of the Catalan police’s final plans, but the prosecutor let their chief know that “his original plan [for the October 1 referendum] was not valid.”
Trapote was to be followed by Ángel Gozalo, who commanded the Guardia Civil police on the same day, who in turn is expected to be followed by statements from two high-ranking Catalan police officials.
This will be the first time that representatives of the Catalan police will speak in court after the criticisms of how the force handled the referendum by some of Spain’s former political and police officials.