Uncut security footage shatters a Spanish juvenile detention center’s apparent attempt to cover up the violent death of 18-year-old Moroccan Iliass Tahiri.
Rabat – The brutal death of George Floyd beneath the knee of a police officer in the American city of Minneapolis, Minnesota sparked protests across the country and around the world — and exhibits chilling similarities with the case of Iliass Tahiri, an 18-year-old Moroccan boy who died on July 1, 2019, in a Spanish juvenile detention center.
The Tetouan native and Algeciras resident died as security guards restrained him in the Tierras de Oria Juvenile Center in Almeria, a city in Andalusia, southeastern Spain.
Judge Teresa Ines Sanchez Gisbert determined the boy violently resisted the guards’ efforts to restrain him and ruled the incident an “accidental violent death” in January 2020, but Iliass’s family is now appealing the decision after new evidence revealed foul play and an apparent sinister cover-up.
What happened to Iliass Tahiri?
Tahiri entered the Oria juvenile center on May 2, 2019, and left two months later in a body bag.
Spanish outlet El Pais reports the Tierras de Oria Juvenile Center described Tahiri as a “problematic boy” and claimed he had been diagnosed with and treated for “severe antisocial personality disorder.”
“He had already gone through two other juvenile centers and was awaiting a trial for threatening a psychologist with a knife,” the source continues. Tahiri had “a violent parent,” abused drugs since the age of 10, and had suffered from bullying, El Pais added, citing reports from his psychologists and psychiatrists.
El Pais released on June 9 unpublished security footage documenting the incident that caused his death—footage that shows the boy did not resist the guards who were restraining him at any point.
The recording shows two security guards entering a small room with a bed and a desk, followed by two more guards holding a handcuffed Tahiri by his arms. The guards throw the boy onto the bed, and two plainclothes men join in the efforts to restrain him, despite Tahiri’s lack of resistance.
The six guards appear to take turns restraining him while others look on. As many as five guards are seen restraining him at once at several points throughout the footage.
As the guards hold Tahiri down, two work to tie his arms and legs to the bed while the boy lays limp, his face pressed to the bed. A thick strap is laid across his back, and a guard checks for a pulse. He appears to find none but proceeds to add more restraints to the boy’s body. The same guard checks Tahiri’s pulse and listens for signs of breathing several more times.
The end of the video shows a lifeless Tahiri, still face-down on the bed in a now-empty room, 13 minutes after the ordeal began. A doctor later arrives to confirm the boy is not breathing and begins unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him.
Defying protocol, manipulating evidence, and lying on record?
Spain’s Association for the Management of Social Integration (GINSO) took administrative control over the Tierras de Oria juvenile detention center in 2015. GINSO protocol stipulates minors should be immobilized face up unless medical professionals recommend an individual be restrained face-down. The policy has earned GINSO a track record of complaints, hazardous incidents, and deaths in other detention centers.
None of Tahiri’s medical reports recommended he be restrained face-down if he were to be immobilized, El Pais reports.
The center’s official report to the Civil Guard claims the security guards had tried to immobilize the boy on his back, but his fierce resistance forced them to put him face-down on the bed. The report also claims the ordeal lasted all of four minutes.
The six authorities involved in Tahiri’s death claimed the boy exercised “extreme violence,” “kicks,” and “strong resistance.” The security footage documents no such resistance on behalf of the young Moroccan.
One of the authority figures involved, Jose Lorente Lopez, told the incident’s investigators that his role during Tahiri’s immobilization was “to be aware of the care of the inmate on his head, in order to hold it to the side to avoid suffocation, vomiting and allow the young man to breathe,” El Pais reports.
Lopez, however, failed to intervene when a guard put his knee near Tahiri’s head for several minutes during the boy’s restraint. Likewise, the coroner failed to implicate the guard’s dangerous knee placement as having a role in Tahiri’s death.
Tahiri’s initial autopsy report ruled out suffocation as the cause of death and instead determined the boy most likely died due to “cardiac arrhythmia” — despite the same report describing clear signs of suffocation — with coroner Dr. Sanchez Blanque insisting “that the same has happened ‘in many cases.’”
The Civil Guard investigators concluded that, based on a mere 10 frames of the 13-minute security recording, the center’s staff acted correctly and in accordance with the GINSO protocol.
The judge ruled the Moroccan’s death accidental and considered the prolonged restraint “necessary” to “prevent acts of violence or injuries of the inmate against himself,” El Pais reports.
The uncut security footage, however, shatters the center’s apparent cover-up and reopens the case, with significant evidence that could rule Tahiri’s death a homicide.
Shocking similarities with the George Floyd case
Iliass’s brother, Mounaim, immediately saw the disturbing parallel between the death of his brother and that of Floyd: “The man they killed in America. The same. The same,” he said to Spanish outlet Publico.
“I see that they have killed him,” Mounaim said after watching the newly-released security footage of his brother’s death. “They checked his pulse a lot. And they look nervous among themselves. They realize and they have continued to tie him. His whole face is on the pillow. And a guy is on top of him. Of imagining it [and from] nothing else, I suffocate.”
“My mother left the court [feeling] powerless,” he lamented.
Spanish human rights NGOs have condemned the incident.
“Five adults to immobilize a kid. Half the planet is aware of ‘I can’t breathe,’” said NGO Andalucia Acoge’s general secretary, Jose Miguel Morales, to Publico, referring to Floyd’s last words that have now become the slogan of a global movement against police brutality and institutionalized racism.
“And this happens in a center that belongs to the Junta de Andalucía. It is relevant,” he continued. “A kid dies due to an obviously poorly done containment maneuver and we have not seen any measures intended to investigate the case. It is a very manual situation, which reveals that things are not done as they should in what affects human rights.”
Vice President of the Andalusian Government Juan Marin said “this is something that, unfortunately, is not extraordinary.”
“The same thing happened in a juvenile center in Melilla, a mechanical restraint in December 2018 that caused a boy’s cardiac arrest and the court filed the matter and forgot,” he said. “In both cases, the institutional and judicial actions show little diligence.”