USS Blue Ridge sailor starts trial for allegedly punching a cab driver
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Pictures of a taxi driver’s bloodied white gloves and broken dentures were introduced into evidence Thursday in a case involving several USS Blue Ridge sailors and a Japanese cabbie who was assaulted.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Paul Booker — the only sailor indicted — denied the charges of “bodily injury” in his first day of trial at Yokohama District Court.
Booker, 23, is accused of punching 60-year-old Iwao Tabata in the face Sept. 17 at the Yokohama train station at 6:20 a.m. after he and others left the cab without paying the 1,750-yen fare (about $15).
But none of the Blue Ridge sailors — Bryan Harrell, Raymond McMannis, Jonathon Sperling and Demarcus Peoples — said they saw the punch, only the bleeding afterwards, prosecutors said. An unnamed Japanese woman also was in Booker’s cab, according to the opening statement.
The group was split into two taxis with the others paying their cab fare without complications. McMannis later paid Tabata’s fare, prosecutors said.
But in the moments before, the cabbie grabbed Harrell to demand payment and Booker threw a punch, Prosecutor Yosuke Kawai said.
“Booker punched the victim, who fell on the ground,” Kawai said. Tabata sustained a broken nose that required a month to heal, he said. The punch also broke his dentures, he said.
But Booker’s attorney Kazunari Watanabe said the victim was likely too “confused” to know what actually happened.
“There are some parts where he may not be telling the truth,” Watanabe told Stars and Stripes after the hearing.
Tabata is to testify at the next hearing, May 10 at 1:30 p.m. Because Booker left the scene before police arrived, he was not placed in Japanese custody in the months awaiting his trial. However, Booker was and continues to be restricted to Yokosuka Naval Base, said Commander, Naval Forces Japan spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman.
While CNFJ does not participate in Japanese trials off base, the Navy will take “appropriate action” at the trial’s conclusion, Waterman said.