Casey soldiers say they acted in self-defense in April bar attack
Stars and Stripes August 22, 2006
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Two U.S. soldiers involved in a late-night fight with South Koreans outside a bar April 15 are telling a radically different story than what South Korean police and media have reported. They said they followed a core Army value of never leaving a buddy behind, in this case one they say was attacked by a pipe-wielding South Korean man. And, they add, they were shocked to face brutality from South Korean police officers they believed would help them.
Police who responded to the scene that night, however, say they were simply protecting themselves when outnumbered by the U.S. soldiers who had fled the bloody scene in a stolen taxi. They also say they never hit the soldiers during the incident.
Pfc. Nicholas Acosta, who faces charges of assault, illegal use of a vehicle, property damage, drunken driving and driving without a license when his trial convenes Aug. 30, and Pvt. Jesse D. Findley, who faces an assault charge, recently met with Stars and Stripes to tell their side of the story.
Two other soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion — Spc. Nick W. Davis and Spc. Shawn R. Kiely — also are charged with assault in the case. Davis and Riley face fines of about $2,000 each.
That nightThe soldiers, along with Davis’ wife and one of her friends, went out April 15 to celebrate a birthday at the A1 club in Dongducheon, near Camp Casey’s main gate. Upon leaving, a South Korean man downstairs gave Acosta, Findley and Kiely “a weird look” and began speaking in Korean to Kiely, Acosta said.
“I told Kiely, ‘Just go, go,’” Acosta said. “I tried to calm the Korean down, but there was a lack of communication. Then he came between me and the wall, and hit Kiely.”
The Korean man, 19-year-old Lee Yong-whan, told police the fight started when he and a soldier bumped shoulders. Police and prosecutors say he later changed his story and agreed to pay a $2,000 fine. They wouldn’t provide details on Lee’s new statements.
The taxiDuring the ensuing melee, the American group managed to make it outside and into a taxi. Kiely was still being punched through the window, the soldiers said, and they begged the taxi driver to start moving.
According to police reports, a bloodied Lee and another man identified only as Kim, 29, began shouting, “Stop the car!”
The taxi driver got out, the soldiers said, and several South Koreans continued the attack.
Acosta said he slammed the doors shut and hopped into the driver’s seat.
“I didn’t want to steal the taxi,” Acosta said. “Davis was a mess and Kiely was still getting hit. The only thing we could do was take the vehicle and get out of it.”
Acosta drove for about a mile before being stopped by Korean National Police, he said.
South Korean media reports that described people dangling from the vehicle as it sped away were inaccurate, the soldiers said.
Acosta’s lawyer, Jin Hyo-keun, filed a grievance with South Korea’s media club system over the coverage. South Korea journalists often compare notes, leading to many outlets filing nearly identical stories. A grievance board ruled in the soldiers’ favor, and required television stations SBS, KBS and YTN to report the soldiers’ side of the story.
“I don’t even know how to drive a stick,” Acosta added. “It stuttered and stopped the whole time. We were doing five or 10 miles an hour.”
The policeA policeman fired a blank round in the air and told the group to get out of the car, according to police reports.
The soldiers claim they tried to show military identification cards and an emergency card that states “ambulance” in Korean to the police, but the officers threw the cards to the ground and began beating the soldiers with batons.
“I fell to the ground, puking up blood,” Findley said. “They continued to beat me for not getting up, I guess, since everybody else was getting on their knees.”
Dongducheon policeman Cho Ung-gon said the taxi was moving much faster than the soldiers claim. And when the soldiers got out of the car, they outnumbered the police four to two.
“We were surrounded all of a sudden by four soldiers speaking very loudly in English,” Cho said. “But we didn’t understand what they were talking about … the smell of blood and flesh was very strong. I felt frightened. What would you have done?”
He said that he and his partner subdued the soldiers without physical violence. A Dongducheon police official later added that police take extra care when dealing with U.S. soldiers to avoid an international incident.
Acosta says the police pulled up with two or three cars, and he was surrounded by five policemen.
“We gave them no reason to feel threatened,” he said. “The rest of the guys stayed back. I was concerned about Findley’s health so I went to the Korean police thinking they would help.”
Cho acknowledged that Acosta showed him a military identification card, but denies throwing it. Instead, Cho says, he gave it back after calling the military police. The military police did not show up at the scene, so he took the soldiers back to his station.
The status of forces agreement mandates that South Korea and the U.S. “shall assist each other in the carrying out of all necessary investigations into offenses” but does not require military police to be notified at the scene.
Cho added he also called a South Korean ambulance for the injured soldiers, but that they insisted on a U.S. ambulance.
Alleged misconductDongducheon police said they were unaware of any allegations of misconduct on their part.
Uijeongbu prosecutor Kim Tae-un questioned the soldiers during his investigation and says they never mentioned any improper police conduct.
“If any cruel treatment and severe acts were committed by the police, the U.S. soldiers should file a formal complaint and address those issues officially,” Kim said.
Acosta said he declined to complain because he did not want to do anything to further delay or complicate his military career.
The police took the group to their station, where they remained for about 45 minutes in handcuffs, Acosta said. A South Korean friend met them there and brought a cell phone, which they used to call the base. The military police arrived soon after, he said.
Acosta has since settled with Lee for 6 million won, or about $6,000, his attorney said. Financial settlements are common practice in the Korean justice system and usually lessen potential sentences. He also settled with another man for about 500,000 won, or $500, and is in negotiations with a third, his attorney said.
“It’s a weird feeling knowing I felt what I did was self-defense, and someone else says different,” Acosta said. I signed up to serve my country … but now I may go to jail for helping my friends and myself save our lives.”
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.