Shot soldier interviewed by S. Korean police in base hospital bed
Investigators from South Korea's Yongsan Police Station arrive at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan's Brian Allgood Community Hospital at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday to question a patient believed to be involved in a high speed car chase in the early morning of March 3, 2013. Police received emergency calls shortly before midnight Sunday saying that foreigners were shooting a gun; police say the weapon, which they have not found, was a BB gun. The patient, private first class assigned to the Eighth Army, was shot by a South Korean police during the chase.
SEOUL — South Korean police took the unusual step of going on base to interview a U.S. soldier in his hospital bed Tuesday about his involvement in a high-speed car chase that led to officers shooting him.
A half-dozen South Koreans arrived in a police van at the Brian Allgood Community Hospital, where doctors cleared him for the interview. The soldier, a private first class stationed at Yongsan who was shot in the upper body, was listed in stable condition.
Details remain unclear about the incident that triggered the car chase early Sunday morning, but South Korean police say three soldiers were involved in shooting plastic pellets from a BB gun at bystanders in front of the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon shortly before midnight.
The soldiers drove away in a car owned by one of them, and were pursued in a taxi by South Korean police to eastern Seoul’s Gwangjin area. They fired one blank round and three live rounds at the car, injuring the private.
Police said the three escaped and returned to the garrison, where they initially told U.S. military police that the private had come under fire by Arabs before admitting he had been shot by police.
The other two soldiers, a staff sergeant and a female corporal, were questioned at the Yongsan Police Station on Monday. The wife of one of the soldiers will also be questioned.
Citing the ongoing investigation, the head detective at the Yongsan Police Station refused Tuesday to answer numerous questions about the case, including whether the BB gun was a “toy,” as has been previously described by police. He said at least one soldier admitted during questioning to throwing the gun away.
The detective, who could not be identified in line with standing rules, would not say how the three soldiers were able to drive away in a personal vehicle from the Hamilton Hotel within minutes after the incident began. Parking in Itaewon is extremely difficult to find, particularly on a weekend night, and traffic is often reduced to a crawl in the crowded entertainment district.
The detective also refused to say whether Korean police contacted the U.S. military’s town patrol, which maintains a presence in Itaewon at night, during the incident.
He said the soldiers had given conflicting statements about how much alcohol they had consumed, with one claiming to have had very little to drink that night.
The official appeared to be trying to defuse anger at the U.S. military, noting that a commander visited the police station Sunday and apologized for the incident and that USFK had been very cooperative in the investigation.
“In only two days, the process of the investigation has done so quickly,” he said. “We could not conduct our probe so fast without USFK’s cooperation.”
Police access to U.S. military suspects is a touchy area in South Korea, where many believe the Status of Forces Agreement gives troops undue protections and allows them to misbehave with impunity. Such agreements are meant to protect the legal rights of U.S. citizens serving in foreign countries.
Two high-profile rapes committed by U.S. soldiers in 2011 renewed calls in South Korea to revise the SOFA.
Pyeongtaek Police Chief Park Sang Yung, who headed a police station near Camp Casey, said at the time the agreement sets a “double standard” in how the U.S. military and South Korean citizens are treated in the country’s legal system. It also is an affront to police, he said, who have to file a subpoena with the U.S. military before they can interview suspects.