Spain Court Reopens Death-in-Custody Case of Morocco Teen

2020-10-31 | Since 4 Week

A Spanish court has reopened the case of a Moroccan teenager's death while being restrained at a juvenile detention center on suspicion of criminally negligent manslaughter, court documents showed Friday.

Iliass Tahiri, 18, died on July 1, 2019 at Tierras de Oria detention center in the southern Almeria province as security staff strapped him to a bed, using a procedure denounced by rights groups as dangerous.

Police opened an inquiry at the time but the case was closed after a judge at the court of first instance ruled it an "accidental" death.

But following an appeal by the family and the region's public prosecutor, the Almeria provincial court decided to overturn the court decision of November 2019.

"The inquiry cannot be considered finished (...) so it is premature to dismiss the case" without further investigation, said the court order which was seen by AFP and dated October 22.

"We do observe a priori (...) reasonable grounds for a crime of (manslaughter by) negligence," it said.

The case hit the headlines in June after CCTV footage of Tahiri's last moments -- in which he shows no signs of violence, a requirement for authorities to resort to such a restraint -- was leaked to El Pais newspaper.

The footage emerged as global protests raged following the death of George Floyd in the US when a policeman knelt on his neck.

The court order said the case would be reopened to determine whether the protocol for using the restraint procedure was "sufficient for ensuring a person's (mental and physical) integrity".

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It also recalled that the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture had called for the restraint procedure to be banned after a 2016 visit to the center.

Tahiri's case centers on mechanical restraint -- strapping a person to a bed so they can't hurt themselves or anyone else -- but can only be used if they are agitated, aggressive or violent.

Andalusia's Human Rights Association (APDHA), which has supported the family, hailed the court decision as progress after years of lobbying against such restraints.

"This is good news because it puts the focus on something we have repeatedly denounced: the use of mechanical restraint procedures in juvenile detention centers," said APDHA's Francisco Fernandez Caparros told AFP.

"We are committed to eliminating this type of measure and developing other ways of de-escalating" conflict, he said, recalling that two other youngsters died after being restrained: one in Madrid in 2011, and another in Spain's Melilla enclave in 2018.

Earlier this year, Ginso, the private company managing Tierras de Oria, told AFP its use of the restraint procedure was "exceptional" and only undertaken with the "minimum necessary force.”

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