Officer charged with sexual harassment kills himselfAn Air Force sergeant who was charged with the sexual harassment that led a female officer to take her own life in May committed suicide Sunday in a detention cell while awaiting trial.
The Military Human Rights Center and military officials said Monday that the non-commissioned officer was found unconscious at 2:55 p.m. Sunday and was taken to a civilian hospital, but later died.
The civic group said that the officer had been held in a detention cell under the control of the Defense Ministry's military police while awaiting trial.
He was taken into custody on June 2 on charges of sexual harassment and pressing the victim, a fellow officer in the 20th Fighter Wing of the Air Force, to drop her complaint against him through texts, meetings, and other officers
Both officers were previously stationed at a base in Seosan, South Chungcheong.
The female officer reported being sexually harassed by the male sergeant after a work dinner in March, which he pressured her into attending despite Covid-19 restrictions on such gatherings.
The harassment allegedly took place in a vehicle when the pair were on their way home, with a lower-ranking officer who was driving as the witness.
Regarding the death of the accused, the Military Human Rights Center said, "The death of the officer is clearly the result of negligence by the Defense Ministry.
"The fact that the incident occurred in a holding room in broad daylight makes apparent the Defense Ministry's lackadaisical attitude toward this closely-watched case."
The civic group added, "As a result of the death of the accused officer before the trial opens on August 6, there will be great difficulty and confusion in the process of figuring out why the victim was driven to her death."
The suicide of the male master sergeant while in the custody of the Defense Ministry adds to a list of blunders by the military in the sexual harassment case, which gripped the nation after the victim's family uploaded a widely circulated Blue House petition calling for an official probe into her suicide.
According to military sources on June 7, the Air Force's headquarters in Gyeryongdae, South Chungcheong, did not submit a proper report to the Defense Ministry regarding the complaint of sexual harassment brought forward by the female officer.
The headquarters did eventually relay the incident to the office of gender equality policies at the Defense Ministry on April 6, about a month after receiving the victim's complaint. However, it was merely included as part of a regular monthly update to the office, with no further details other than the fact that an incident of sexual harassment had been reported.
The headquarters has also been accused of engaging in a cover-up to minimize the role sexual harassment played in the female officer's suicide.
According to the Military Human Rights Center, the day after the suicide on May 22, the Air Force Headquarters' military police team initially stated that a victim of sexual harassment had died, but the colonel at the head of the military police team ordered the person in charge of the case four times to delete the fact that the deceased was a victim of sexual harassment.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]