Airman questioned in taxi robberies in Okinawa
April 12, 2008
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The 21-year-old airman being questioned by Okinawa prefectural police for his alleged involvement in two taxi robberies is an Air Force police officer .
An Air Force spokeswoman said Thursday the suspect is assigned to the 18th Security Forces Squadron and is restricted to the base during the investigation into two incidents March 16 involving American teenagers in Okinawa City.
His name was withheld because he has not been charged, said Beth Gosselin of 18th Wing Public Affairs.
“As the investigation is still ongoing, it would be inappropriate to discuss details of the case,” she said. “Kadena Air Base is cooperating fully with local authorities by providing information to the Okinawa Prefectural Police and access to the suspect as needed.”
Four teens, all sons of active-duty servicemembers, are being held by Japanese police on suspicion of beating and robbing a 55-year-old cab driver just after midnight March 16 in an entertainment district near Kadena Air Base.
The driver suffered minor injuries when he was attacked from behind, police said. His attackers then made off with about 8,000 yen (about $80).
Police said two of the teens are also suspects in the theft of some 5,400 yen (about $54) from a 51-year-old cabbie some 22 hours later.
The 16-year-old stepson of an airman was apprehended near the second crime scene and allegedly led investigators to the 15-year-old son of a Marine, who was taken into Okinawa police custody March 18.
Two 19-year-olds — an Army dependent and the son of an enlisted airman — were turned over to Okinawa police April 5 as suspects in the first incident, police said.
Their names were not released because they are minors under Japanese law. All four teens and the 21-year-old airman are suspects in the first robbery, according to Okinawa police.
Okinawa police have forwarded the cases against the minors to the Naha Public Prosecutors Office. They have not concluded their investigation into the activities of the Air Force police officer.
“There has been no formal request to turn the individual over,” Gosselin said.
Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the military can maintain custody of servicemembers suspected of crimes until they are indicted in a Japanese court.
According to accounts in the Ryukyu Shimpo, one of Okinawa’s two Japanese-language daily newspapers, the teens had been hanging out at the airman’s home on Kadena Air Base. Okinawa police confirmed that the 15-year-old was listed by the U.S. military as a runaway.
The newspaper, quoting anonymous sources, said the youths told investigators that they planned the robberies with the airman, who fed them and allowed them to stay in his home. They claim the airman drove a getaway car in the first crime and played a leading role in the incident, but he has denied the allegation, according to the newspaper.
Okinawa police would not confirm the newspaper’s account.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.