When S. Korean police shot US GI, it may have been a first
By ASHLEY ROWLAND AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 14, 2013
SEOUL — In a country where gun ownership is largely banned, it’s unusual for a South Korean police officer to fire his weapon on duty.
In fact, the first time it happened this year came when an officer fired three shots at a car and wounded a U.S. soldier this month, according to the National Police Agency.
It also is believed to be the first time that a South Korean officer has shot a U.S. Forces Korea servicemember.
The March 3 shooting, which followed a high-speed car chase across Seoul after three soldiers were involved in a BB gun shooting, landed a private first class in intensive care and led military officials to apologize for a prank that went bad.
South Korean officers fired guns in the line of duty just 20 times in 2012, according to the NPA.
“It’s rare,” the head detective of the Yongsan Police Station said. “It only happens when they are forced to respond that way.”
Two of the soldiers have admitted to taking BB potshots in a crowded intersection in front of the Hamilton Hotel, with a corporal saying she did so “for fun.” The shooting prompted one civilian to place an emergency call shortly before midnight on March 2 and report that foreigners were targeting him.
Police tried to physically stop the soldiers’ car from leaving the crowded entertainment district, but the three drove away and were pursued by a police officer in a taxi to eastern Seoul.
There, the officer claims that the staff sergeant driving the car reversed his vehicle several times, striking the policeman in the knee. The officer fired one warning shot and three live rounds, one of which struck the private, who was a passenger, in the upper chest.
The private was discharged Wednesday from Brian Allgood Community Hospital at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan and is back with his command, according to 8th Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter.
In South Korea, police, the military and private security guards are allowed to carry firearms. Civilians are pretty much limited to using firearms at private shooting ranges.
Authorities said the lack of guns means police don’t have to be as heavily armed as American law enforcement.
An NPA spokesman said officers work in pairs where one is armed with a .38-caliber revolver and another carrying a gun that emits a spray similar to tear gas.
South Korean police wait for a bus in front of an Itaewon subway station exit and the Hamilton Hotel on March 6, 2013, in the area where at least one U.S. soldier allegedly shot a BB gun from a car, triggering a police chase that culminated with another soldier being shot by a South Korean police officer.
ASHLEY ROWLAND/STARS AND STRIPES