Police admit to wrongdoing after botched investigation

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Police admit to wrongdoing after botched investigation

Police at the Jungnang Police Station have come under fire for failing to follow proper investigation procedures regarding an incident last week at a Seoul subway station.

According to the involved parties and CCTV footage, police officers apparently arrested the wrong individuals and later attempted to cover up their mistakes. But despite an apology from the director of the station’s criminal department, it seems the police were not able to escape blame from the four men they wrongfully accused.

The trouble started on the morning of Jan. 23 at about 8:40 a.m., when a man in his 20s, identified only by his surname Kim, entered Jungnang Station but was unable to pass through the ticket gate after the alarms sounded. Yoo Seung-hyun and Lim Gi-taek, both 66, charged with keeping public order at the station, responded to the scene and asked Kim to present his metro card. Allegedly agitated, Kim pushed Yoo to the ground and started verbally harassing the two attendants.

Son Seong-hoon, 34, a teacher at Jinseon Girls’ Middle School, witnessed the scuffle and tried to stop Kim, but the suspect fled on foot. Son pursued the young man and was able to catch up with him. According to Son, Kim smashed his belongings onto the ground before pushing him.

Meanwhile, Shin Seong-hyun, 45, a teacher at Cheongwon Middle School who also witnessed the incident, called police. Two officers from the Junghwa Precinct were dispatched to the scene, where the two teachers handed Kim over to the authorities. The educators then left the police with their contact information and headed to work.

Son and Shin were surprised, however, when they both received calls from the police a few hours later asking them to come to the precinct.

When they arrived, the police informed them that they had been accused of mob violence and were being arrested. In addition, Kim, the original perpetrator, had insisted to officers that he had broken his finger in a tussle with the four men.

Yoo and Lim were present at the precinct when he arrived, Son said, and a police officer had apparently already read them their Miranda rights.

“It was like a bolt out of the blue,” he said. “I complained so bitterly, but they told me to defend myself at the police station.”

Son said he refused to sign the arrest papers but was eventually persuaded by the police.

But after being taken to the Jungnang Police Station, things only got worse, and Son and Shin were notified that police were planning to report the arrests to their respective schools.

Shin immediately called a lawyer to convince the police that the arrests were ungrounded. His attempts, however, were shut down by an investigator, who allegedly told Shim that if he continued to talk to his lawyer, the police would just handle the incident in “their own way.”

When the two men continued to protest, a lieutenant from the Junghwa Precinct arrived at the station and suggested modifying the records, changing the men’s status from “arrested” to “voluntary accompaniment.” (According to Son, the lieutenant allegedly called him the next day to make the same suggestion.)

The police’s official investigation ended at 2 p.m. the same afternoon, and the four men were free to go. But still incensed, Son returned to the subway station to gather evidence.

CCTV footage from a nearby store had captured scenes from the incident, including of Kim smashing his belongings. “The teacher was just holding onto Kim’s clothes,” the store owner said, adding that the two men never had a physical fight.

Kim came to the police station on Friday for the investigation, though he refused to submit his medical records as requested by the police. He went so far as to reject the probe altogether and left.

In the end, Park Dong-ju, the head of the criminal department at the Jungnang Police Station, admitted that the police made a mistake by arresting the four men and issued an apology.

But despite the acknowledgement of wrongdoing, Son said he is still angry about the events that transpired.

“We had to go through a great ordeal on that day,” he said. “I’m enraged [the police] tried to change the records of what they had done.”

BY LEE SEO-JUN [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]
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