U.S. Air Force worker indicted for fatal crash
Case in Okinawa thought first time wider jurisdiction powers appliedhttp://www.japantimes.co.jp/print/nn20111125x1.html
NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — Prosecutors in Okinawa on Friday indicted a civilian employee of the U.S. Air Force over a fatal vehicle collision in January in what is believed to be the first attempt to make use of a new bilateral agreement that conditionally gives Japan more jurisdiction over crimes involving nonmilitary personnel at U.S. bases.
The indictment without arrest of Rufus James Ramsey III, a 24-year-old employee of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, on charges of negligent driving resulting in death came after the Naha District Public Prosecutor's Office reversed an earlier decision not to pursue the case.
"It is good that the trial can be held in Japan," said Nobutaka Hiramitsu, deputy chief public prosecutor at the Naha office, noting it reflected the hopes of the victim's family.
Before Wednesday's agreement to change the operational implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the handling of U.S. service personnel in Japan, the United States had primary authority to try both military and nonmilitary U.S. personnel suspected of committing crimes while on duty.
From now on, however, Japan can request the right to exercise jurisdiction in cases that cause death or severe injuries if the United States decides not to conduct any criminal prosecution and gives its consent to Japanese authorities to do so.
In line with the latest agreement, Naha prosecutors filed a request for jurisdiction and received U.S. consent Thursday.
The accident occurred in the city of Okinawa on the night of Jan. 12, when Ramsey's vehicle swerved into the oncoming lane and struck a minivehicle driven by Koki Yogi, 19, who was killed.
Acknowledging that some members of the public see Japan's lack of jurisdiction as unfair, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba told reporterss Friday that the government will make utmost efforts to "achieve results one at a time" under the new agreement and work to fulfill its perpetual promise to ease the base-hosting woes in Okinawa.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima welcomed the indictment as "a certain degree of progress" in the Japanese and U.S. government's response to local residents' demands, while reiterating his prefecture's call for fundamental revisions to the SOFA.
Similarly, Yogi's mother, Manami Kamiya, said in a statement, "The Status of Forces Agreement must be amended so that trials of U.S. soldiers and nonmilitary personnel in this country are as a matter of course held in Japanese courts."
Kamiya, 41, said she was to some extent "relieved" that Ramsey had been indicted, but also recalled the shock and anger she felt when she first learned that the U.S. side had only slapped a five-year driving ban on him without further punishment.
The prosecutors initially decided in March not to indict Ramsey, who worked at a store at U.S. Marine Corps Camp Foster, as they concluded primary jurisdiction rested with the United States because he was deemed to have been on duty at the time.
But they reopened the case after an independent judicial panel of citizens, acting on a claim from the victim's family, decided in May that Ramsay should be indicted because the prosecutors failed to appropriately investigate whether he had in fact been on duty.
Under the SOFA, Japan has the right to exercise jurisdiction if the suspected crime was committed while off duty.
Many residents in Okinawa and other areas of Japan that host U.S. bases have voiced anger for many years about the way drunken driving and other crimes involving U.S. civilian personnel have been handled.
The Japan Times: Friday, Nov. 25, 2011
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