Private's sentence for role in S. Korean bar brawl is suspended
UIJEONGBU, South Korea — A U.S. soldier and a South Korean man who were at the center of a bloody late-night brawl outside a bar nearly five months ago appeared separately in Uijeongbu District Court on Wednesday morning.
Judge Jung Jin-ho sentenced the soldier, Pfc. Nicholas Acosta, to eight months in prison for assault, property damage, drunken driving and driving without a license in connection with the incident. Jung suspended Acosta’s sentence for two years on the condition the soldier stays out of trouble in South Korea.
Acosta blew a sigh of relief and smiled at fellow soldiers as he left the courtroom, but he refused to comment. Prosecutors had sought an 18-month jail sentence.
Jung dismissed an appeal by 19-year-old Lee Yong-whan, the South Korean accused of starting the April 15 fight. Lee complained that his 2 million won (about $2,000) fine is excessive.
The judge said he understood that Lee faces financial difficulties and knocked off 500,000 won (about $500) for the one day that Lee spent in police confinement.
But Jung warned Lee that since he started the fight, the remaining fine was just.
Lee told Stars and Stripes that while he feels “partly responsible” for the fight, the fine isn’t fair.
Seeing Acosta in his dress uniform — Lee was in the courthouse audience as he waited for his separate appearance — was difficult, Lee added.
“Yes, when seeing the soldier, I feel furious,” he said.
Acosta was with a group of soldiers outside the A1 club in Dongducheon, near Camp Casey, when the fight began with Lee and other South Korean men. Acosta has told Stripes that the soldiers managed to make it into a taxi but were still fighting through the open windows. When the taxi driver refused to drive and exited the vehicle, Acosta said he jumped behind the wheel to drive his buddies to safety. He drove for about a mile before being stopped by South Korean police.
Acosta also said the soldiers were mistreated by the police, but decided not to lodge an official complaint because he didn’t want to do anything that would further delay or complicate his military career.
Acosta paid more than $9,000 in settlements, something the judge said he took into consideration in weighing the sentence.
After an Aug. 30 session in front of the judge, Acosta’s defense attorney, Jin Hyo-keun, lodged a complaint with Uijeongbu legal officials when a team of two court-provided translators was unable to adequately translate.
Acosta appeared to have an easier time understanding a new court-provided translator during Wednesday’s hearing.
The other three soldiers with Acosta the evening of the fight — Pvt. Jesse D. Findley, Spc. Nick W. Davis and Spc. Shawn R. Kiley — were fined by Uijeongbu city, according to 2nd Infantry Division officials.
Their military chain of command is determining whether further punishment is warranted, according to a 2nd Infantry Division spokeswoman.