Wife of imprisoned Navy officer meets with Biden after State of the Union address
Stars and Stripes February 8, 2023
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – The spouse of the Navy officer serving a three-year prison sentence in Japan met with President Joe Biden on Tuesday in a chance meeting at the Capitol following his State of the Union address, according to a family spokesman.
Brittany Alkonis, wife of Lt. Ridge Alkonis, reportedly spoke with Biden and left feeling “very positive about the meeting,” family spokesman Jonathan Franks said by text Wednesday to Stars and Stripes in Japan. He declined to elaborate further on the encounter.
Biden told Brittany Alkonis that “we’re not giving up and we’re going to get him home,” according to a Tuesday tweet from Real Clear News reporter Philip Wegmann.
The encounter follows months of protests and pleas for meetings with the president by Brittany Alkonis, who has advocated for her husband since he reported to prison in July.
Ridge Alkonis, 34, of Claremont, Calif., is seven months into a three-year sentence handed down by the Shizuoka District Court in October 2021. He was convicted of negligent driving causing the deaths of two people and injuring a third in May 2021.
Formerly a weapons officer assigned to the destroyer USS Benfold at Yokosuka, Alkonis was driving his family through Fujinomiya after a trip to nearby Mount Fuji when he fell unconscious and crashed into the victims outside a soba restaurant.
Following her husband’s conviction and a higher court refusing his appeal in July, Brittany Alkonis and other supporters immediately began organizing marches and other protests behind the phrase “Bring Ridge Home.” A petition to secure Ridge Alkonis’ release, started in June, had 85,783 signatures as of Wednesday.
The Alkonis’ supporters, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., say Lt. Alkonis received unfair treatment from the Japanese legal system. Both congressmen have alleged that Japanese prosecutors violated sections of the U.S.-Japan status of forces agreement that governs the rights and responsibilities of individuals in Japan affiliated with the U.S. military.
Brittany Alkonis and others say Alkonis was deprived of sleep and otherwise treated harshly during the investigation into the incident, and was denied legal counsel and translation services during the 26 days he was in Japanese police custody.
Suspects in criminal cases may be held up to 23 days without an opportunity to post a release bond until they’re formally charged, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Alkonis was charged 20 days after his arrest and legally held another six days after the official charges, a Japanese attorney told Stars and Stripes in August.
Alkonis supporters have put his case before other politicians in the months following his incarceration. Vice President Kamala Harris in September spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida about the situation, a White House official told Stars and Stripes in October.
In December, Congress approved the continuation of Alkonis’ pay and benefits during his incarceration after passing an amendment to the $1.7 trillion federal spending bill; the amendment, sponsored by Lee, was a response to the Defense Department refusing Alkonis’ request for an exception to policy.