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Ex-Misawa jiujitsu instructor faces attempted manslaughter charge after on-base fight

Rodrigo Gomez teaches jiu-jitsu at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Feb. 17, 2016.

JORDYN FETTER/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 20, 2018

An Air Force spouse and jiujitsu instructor is due in court next week after being accused of trying to kill a young airman and beating two others at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Rodrigo Pineda Gomez, the husband of a Misawa-based officer, has been charged with attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault in the New Year’s Eve 2016 incident. Federal prosecutors say he attempted to kill one of the airmen “by trying to snap his neck, punch him in the throat and stomp on his head repeatedly,” according to court documents.

Gomez, who was barred from U.S. military bases in Japan after the fight, was arrested last month in Osan, South Korea. He was indicted in Arkansas because the alleged offense happened overseas and Gomez’ last known U.S. residence was near Little Rock.

He was scheduled to appear in court in Little Rock on March 26; however, federal prosecutors said in an email Tuesday that the trial had been continued until August 20.

Prosecutors allege in a court motion that Gomez had been drinking and was at Café Mokuteki, a popular coffee shop not far from Misawa’s flight line, at about 2:30 a.m. and “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion did attempt to kill [an airman].”

They say Gomez also assaulted two other airmen by hitting one in the head and the other in the face.

Security camera footage shows that Gomez instigated the fight when he hit one airman in the back of the head, according to the motion. The camera also captured the rest of the altercation.

A federal public defender representing Gomez did not respond to emailed questions or a phone message about the incident.

However, Gomez said in a written statement provided to military officials that the fight started when one of the airmen threw a punch at him and that he had been defending himself, the court motion states.

The prosecutors’ motion countered that statement, saying it was the “then-19-year-old victim, who was merely eating a snack with some friends and who had tried to de-escalate the situation in the beginning who bore the brunt of the defendant’s rage and violent attack.”

The Air Force barred Gomez from all U.S. Forces Japan facilities days after the fight, finding that his alleged actions posed a threat to the safety and wellbeing of others. After his arrest, Gomez was also barred from U.S. military installations in South Korea, according to prosecutors.

‘Calm down’

An overview of the incident detailed in the court documents says Gomez stumbled near a booth in the café where four airmen were sitting. Words were exchanged and, without warning, Gomez hit one of them in the back of the head. An airman slapped his hand away and he and another airman got out of the booth.

“[One airman] had his hands down in a defensive posture while he told Gomez words to the effect of ‘calm down.’ Within seconds, again without warning, Gomez punched [that airman] in the face, knocking him back into a table, and onto the ground,” the overview states.

Gomez’s 20-year-old son, who was also at the café, put the airman in a leg lock while Gomez attempted to snap the immobilized man’s neck by twisting his head violently up and to the side, the overview states. He then punched the man in the neck and face and stomped on his head several times.

“[The alleged victim] was left dazed, incoherent and unable to stand on his own,” the overview states.

Security forces arrived and attempted to control the situation but Gomez and his son resisted commands and hit the victims several more times, the overview states.

“Eventually, as Security Forces were leading Gomez out of the restaurant to interview him, Gomez hit another one of the airmen … in the face,” the overview states.

Government lawyers argued that Gomez should be detained because of the seriousness of the offense and his experience living and traveling overseas.

Gomez may have told pretrial services that he had worked on a military base in Japan after the fight, potentially violating the Air Force’s barment order, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors argued that the government’s ability to protect people in Japan from Gomez was limited.

“His lack of ability to control his anger, even after law enforcement arrived, further highlights the defendant’s dangerousness,” they said in court documents.

Gomez was photographed and interviewed for an article posted on Misawa’s website in March 2016 with the headline “Jiu-Jitsu strengthens Misawa’s resilience.” The report quotes the martial-arts instructor as saying that one of the sport’s greatest benefits is a sense of family crafted through hours of practice.

"It's about building a foundation and family, especially in a small community like Misawa," Gomez said. "It's not only about training, or about fighting each other."

Gomez tried to show the importance of resilience to military members and their families through the sport, according to the article.

"We want to teach them that no matter how hard life gets, there is always a solution," he said.

A month after the fight, Gomez posted jokes about violence on his Facebook page that were screen-captured by Air Force investigators, according to prosecutors.

One post shows an image of a puppet with the statement: “The problem is, you like to run your mouth but I like to fight.” Another says: “Sometimes I feel like giving up, then I remember all the haters I need to choke.”

The result of not detaining Gomez would be “a potentially dangerous U.S. citizen among the Japanese civilian population,” prosecutors argued.

However, last month the court issued an order setting conditions for Gomez’ release that included avoiding contact with people who might be witnesses or alleged victims in the case and informing authorities before leaving Japan.

Gomez has been ordered to appear in court in Little Rock on March 26.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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