A United States citizen has been acquitted by a Barcelona court after being arrested in 2019 and imprisoned for 5 months because of an alleged role in the violent protests that followed the sentencing of twelve Catalan pro-independence leaders. Charles Andrew Pittman was one of five foreigners arrested during the riots and was held in pretrial jail for 5 months because the judge believed he did not have clear social roots in Catalonia and was therefore at risk of disappearing. After this jail time and a two year wait for a trial, he was acquitted because there was no evidence to support one of the key assertions that motivated his arrest. The 30-year-old was arrested by the Barcelona city police, the Guardia Urbana, on the morning of October 18th, 2019, on central Carrer Pelai in the city, a day of a general strike and mass marches in Barcelona, in protest at the independence leaders' jailing. Pittman was looking in a recycling bin on the street for material that he could salvage. Amongst the contents of his backpack was a tooth whitener product, which was a key justification given for his arrest.
Lawyers from the Alerta Solidaria collective say that "the acquittal reveals a new scandal: the version of two Guardia Urbana officers was enough to arrest and imprison him; his real crime was being caught in the middle of the protests against the independence leaders' sentencing; he was one of the 28 imprisoned in the police action against the protests and spent five months in jail." They add that "the reports provided by the defence at trial found no damage that was attributable to any fire, among other reasons because there is no record of any fire." Although it was shown that there was no flammable material in the contents of his backpack, the Barcelona Court No 16 which heard the case in the first instance decided to hastily end the investigation and send it to the next judicial stage. The public prosecutor demanded 6 years jail for the American man, a fine of 7,200 euros and expulsion from Spain for offences of public disorder.
Monday's court ruling which acquitted Charles Pittman makes it clear that he had been charged in relation to events that did not even happen. "It has not been duly proven that the defendant, with the clear intention of abusing other people's property and, at the same time, disturbing the public peace, went to an undetermined rubbish container, located in the vicinity of Gran Via and Carrer Aribau and tried to burn it and its contents, [and nor] is it shown that he caused any damage to the container".
The court ruling also details that although the police found him rummaging in a container "[it was not shown] that he set fire to some rolls of toilet paper with the intention of the fire spreading and completely burning the container". In fact, the court text continues that "it was not proven that the container mentioned that day and at that time suffered any damage caused by fire." It also points out that the objects he was carrying and that were confiscated from him were not flammable.
During the trial, the defendant's version was compared with evidence provided by the police and the judge accepted the story of witnesses, officers in the Guardia Urbana police, who ended up stating that Charles Pittman was not part of the group that allegedly caused riots during those days in October 2019. The judge also ruled that "there was no collective, voluntary and agreed action by the defendant," and thus "the requirements required for the type of public disorder offence which the accusation is aimed at are not met, and thus an acquittal for those matter has been ruled".