Ministry asks USFK for custody of BB gun soldier

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Ministry asks USFK for custody of BB gun soldier

The Ministry of Justice yesterday requested the United States Army in Korea hand over custody of a U.S. soldier accused of shooting a BB gun at civilians in Itaewon, central Seoul, on March 2, and being involved in a high-speed car chase that resulted in the police shooting one of the soldiers.

The jurisdiction request for the soldier, a 26-year-old staff sergeant surnamed Lopez, follows an arrest warrant issued by the Seoul Central District Court Wednesday, which said the suspect “may destroy evidence or flee” to avoid legal punishment without detention.

With the arrest warrant granted by the court, it was the Justice Ministry’s job to ask the U.S. military to hand over the suspect, which the ministry did yesterday, marking the first time the authorities have asked the USFK to relinquish the jurisdiction over a U.S. soldier implicated in a general crime.

There are 12 other crimes classified as serious, including murder and rape, where the Korean authorities have requested custody of a soldier in the event a soldier is suspected of one of these crimes.

“We filed a custody request to the U.S. Forces Korea [USFK] and expect the request will be accepted given the current circumstances [that back the soldier’s illegal acts],” said an official at the Justice Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sergeant Lopez has been identified as the primary suspect in the disturbance, during which he shot at people with a BB gun in front of the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon and fled the scene when the police approached.

Lopez also allegedly rammed his car into a police officer at the end of the chase, and his passenger, a 23-year-old corporal surnamed Dixon was shot by the pursuing police officer in the shoulder. The other soldiers will have further questioning by the prosecutors without physical detention. It remains to be seen whether the USFK will accept the ministry request to hand over the sergeant.

By Kang Jin-kyu []
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