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Japanese court awards damages against former Marines for 2008 assault of taxi driver

Okinawa's Naha District Court is pictured in this undated file photo.

CHIYOMI SUMIDA/STARS AND STRIPES

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 9, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Relatives of an Okinawan taxi driver who was assaulted by Marines in 2008 have been awarded compensation by a Japanese court and plan to petition the U.S. and Japanese governments for payment.

The family of the late Munekazu Ura was awarded approximately $239,000 (26,426,814 yen) in Naha District Court Thursday for a Jan. 7, 2008, assault by former Marines Joseph Wayne Riddle and Reginald Crapps, according to a copy of the verdict. Ura’s family sued the pair in civil court last year after nearly a decade of informal requests for damages.

Riddle and Crapps — then assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — had admitted beating Ura during an attempted robbery and were sentenced to prison terms in Japan. Both were later released and returned to the U.S.

If the two are unable or unwilling to pay the damages, the U.S. and Japanese governments will be required to do so under the Status of Forces Agreement that governs American servicemembers in Japan.

“My father could not go back to work after the incident and felt terrible about being a burden to the family,” Ura’s son, Muneyuki Ura, said after the verdict, according to the Okinawa Times newspaper.

“His last words were ‘I am sorry.’ I can tell him that it is over and now you can rest in peace.”

The early-morning assault happened after Ura picked up Riddle, then a 20-year-old corporal, and Crapps, a 19-year-old private first class, in Kitamae, Chatan, according to court records.

The cab proceeded to Mihara, Okinawa City where Riddle hit the 59-year-old driver from the back seat with a whiskey bottle and Crapps punched him in the face, court records said. The Marines then chased Ura and struck him with the bottle again. The driver sustained injuries to his head and neck and his false teeth were knocked out.

Riddle and Crapps were caught and confessed.

Riddle was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison with forced labor, while Crapps received three to four years with forced labor.

After the attack Ura became depressed and couldn’t sleep. Even after his physical wounds healed, he was hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder that became so bad that he had to quit his job and was unable to adequately provide for his family, according to court records. He died of cancer in 2012 at age 63.

Ura and his family sent invoices to American officials through the Japanese government five times between 2009 and 2014, seeking about $200,000. The U.S. government offered a settlement in November of about $13,000 but the family rejected the offer, the Kyodo News reported.

Ura’s relatives don’t expect Riddle and Crapps to pay the damages and plan to go back to the U.S. and Japanese governments, their attorney, Yohichi Hidaka, said.

According to the SOFA, the U.S. must pay compensation on behalf of its military personnel if they have caused an accident or incident, even off duty, and are unable to pay. If there is any difference between what they agree to pay and the court settlement, the rest will be paid by the government of Japan.

U.S. Forces Japan could not be reached for comment Monday.

“We are aware that Naha District Court ordered the monetary compensation from the Marines,” an Okinawa Defense Bureau spokesman said. “However, as the Japanese government, we would rather not comment on this case. If Ura’s family wants to apply for [Special Action Committee on Facilities and Areas in Okinawa] funds for the monetary compensation, we will fulfill our part by complying with SOFA rules.”

burke.matt@stripes.com
ichihashi.aya@stripes.com

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