Case helps spark reform on Yokosuka roads
October 2, 2007
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The chief staff officer here acted inappropriately this summer when he approached a Navy family member, accused her of breaking several traffic rules and then asked security officials to issue her tickets the following day, according to Yokosuka Naval Base commander Capt. Daniel Weed.
“I think that significant mistakes were made,” Weed said of how the family member was charged, of errors made in the case’s paperwork and in the confusion that arose during her sentencing in traffic court.
As a result, Jaime Walton, a fleet sailor’s wife with a small child, lost her license and car for more than 30 days. Weed granted her appeal in September, returning her license and erasing any punitive points on her driving record.
Weed said the case highlighted inconsistencies in traffic rules at Yokosuka and problems in even-handed enforcement of violations on the streets and in traffic court. A new traffic policy issued in late August addresses these problems, including some that arose in Walton’s case, he said.
Walton said Friday that she was glad to know the rules were revised. Yet she said she was disappointed to learn that no one, including Cmdr. Jon Lundquist, the chief staff officer, was disciplined.
“Here I was wrongly accused and 35 days without a car,” Walton said Friday by telephone. “I can’t tell you how difficult it was. But they’ve done nothing to these people who did wrong to me. What they did was abuse their power. And they are getting away with it.”
The case began on a Sunday afternoon in July. Lundquist said he saw Walton use her cell phone while driving and roll through five stop signs on base. Lundquist said he only wanted to remind her of the rules, so he approached her inside the Fleet Recreation Center parking garage.
Walton saw it differently. She denied breaking any rules. She also felt anxious at being approached in the parking garage by a stranger and used R-rated language to tell him to get lost, she said during interviews with Stars and Stripes.
“This guy scared the crap out of me,” Walton said. “He demanded my ID, and I told him to screw off.”
Later that night, bothered by his memory of her driving and her attitude in the parking lot, Lundquist called security officials and asked them to pursue issuing tickets, he said during a telephone interview Friday.
Weed said in an interview Thursday his deputy should have involved Navy security officials on the scene rather than after the fact.
“How he proceeded to carry this out was probably inappropriate,” Weed said.
Weed took command of Yokosuka in April, and by the time Walton’s case occurred, his office already was trying to condense and simplify the base’s traffic rules. The new commander was worried about serious traffic accidents involving sailors. He also said he had learned of problems in the current policy.
For example, Weed had found that traffic court judges — appointed officers and warrant officers who share judge duties — received no training before administering decisions. He also found that about 40 drivers at Yokosuka had accumulated enough penalty points to lose their licenses. But those same people were still driving with valid licenses, he said.
Even more confusing was that traffic court judges could possibly make decisions based on two different sets of rules.
Yokosuka Naval Base had one regulation that stated all ticket penalties in one case could be added into one collective penalty. U.S. Naval Forces Japan, which also has offices at Yokosuka, counts only the ticket with the most points as punishment in an incident.
In Walton’s case, she believed she should be judged under U.S. Naval Forces Japan’s rules. The judge in the case depended on Yokosuka’s policy, Weed said.
Weed said he took that into consideration when considering Walton’s appeal. He also found that the time elements on her six tickets were wrong.
And it was unclear whether a traffic court judge had suspended Walton’s license effective immediately or with a 24-hour grace period. Walton believed the latter, and she drove away from traffic court only to get pulled over by a Navy security officer. Her car was then impounded.
“You can see the incredible amount of confusion arising from this,” Weed said.
In the end, Weed said, he granted the appeal because of the confusion and mistakes in the case.
“This was a very traumatic event for everybody concerned,” he said. “But [I] don’t waste mistakes. I think that we’ve taken the lessons learned and applied it to make it a better [policy] so that it can be universally applied.”
Lundquist said he felt the system worked. He said that anyone, no matter their rank or position on base, can go to the security office and report someone breaking the rules. “Anybody can make a report,” he said. “I reported what I saw.”
Furthermore, he said, the driver has the right to appeal. Walton did that and won.
“I respect that process,” Lundquist said.