CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japanese authorities charged a U.S. civilian employee Friday for his alleged role in a January traffic death — a move that comes just one day after both countries agreed Japan will be able to prosecute U.S. Defense Department civilians for incidents that occur while on official duty.
The public prosecutor’s office indicted 24-year-old Rufus J. Ramsey III, an Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee, for vehicular manslaughter in a collision that killed a 19-year-old Japanese driver, the prosecutor’s office announced Friday during a news conference in Naha.
On Thursday, a bilateral committee agreed on a new interpretation of treaty guidelines that allows Japan to request legal jurisdiction over DOD civilians who are involved in incidents while they are working that cause death or permanent injury, the Ministry of Defense said.
“This framework will apply to future cases,” the ministry said in a prepared statement. “However, this also covers the Jan. 12 fatal traffic accident that occurred in Okinawa City.”
Under the new interpretation, the U.S. will still retain primary jurisdiction in cases involving servicemembers and civilians who are on official business. But if the U.S. declines to prosecute a civilian, Japan has 30 days to request permission to try the case, according to the ministry.
U.S. Forces Japan and AAFES could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Okinawa, which is home to the majority of U.S. forces in Japan, has been pressing for greater authority to prosecute U.S. civil employees since the fatal accident, which sparked outcry in an area that has long protested the large foreign military presence.
“I believe that this case has greatly influenced the negotiation on the [interpretation of treaty rules] by both governments at this time,” said Nobutaka Hiramitsu, spokesman for the Naha prosecutor’s office.
Ramsey was driving home from work when he passed another driver, lost control and veered into the vehicle of Koki Yogi, a company worker who had returned to his hometown to celebrate his 20th birthday, according to Japanese authorities.
Under the status of forces agreement guidelines, servicemembers and civilian employees are considered to be on duty when they are commuting to or from work. U.S. authorities revoked Ramsey’s Japan driving privileges for five years following an administrative hearing.
Japanese prosecutors were considering criminal charges against Ramsey earlier this year but decided not to pursue them because of the interpretation of the treaty at that time.
The decision caused a public protest in June and Okinawans claimed the U.S.-Japan SOFA treaty gave civilians too much protection against Japanese prosecution.
Hiramitsu said Friday that Yogi had no fault in the vehicle collision and Ramsey was grossly negligent.
“Had the driver been a Japanese national, he or she would be tried in court,” he said.
On Friday, no court dates had yet been set for the case. In the meantime, the prosecutor’s office said it will not attempt to take custody of Ramsey.