US soldier in BB gun case requests transfer to S. Korean custody
SEOUL — A staff sergeant under investigation for his role in a BB gun shooting that ended with a fellow soldier being shot by police was transferred to South Korean custody Tuesday for pre-trial confinement, according to the 8th Army.
In an unusual twist to the case, the U.S. military granted the transfer because the soldier — not South Korean authorities — asked for it. His reasoning was not immediately known.
“The soldier requested that he be transferred to Korean custody,” Col. Andrew Mutter said. “That’s why we gave it.”
The staff sergeant and a second soldier, a corporal, allegedly shot one or more BB guns at a crowded Itaewon intersection shortly before midnight on March 2, then led police on a high-speed car chase across the city. The chase ended when a South Korean police officer approached the car on foot and the driver reversed, striking the officer in the leg. The officer fired several shots, one of which hit a third soldier, a private first class, in the chest.
The troops have not been publicly identified.
The Ministry of Justice issued an arrest warrant last week and requested that U.S. Forces Korea turn him over. Issues of custody and jurisdiction in cases involving U.S. servicemembers are a sore point in South Korea, where many believe the status of forces agreement unduly protects military members from prosecution and hinders thorough investigations.
South Korean prosecutors said they felt the soldier posed a flight risk and might destroy evidence, even though he had been in USFK custody since March 23.
Mutter said military authorities would have considered the ministry’s request, but the issue apparently became moot when the sergeant requested the transfer.
A prosecutor with the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office said officials have “no idea” when or if the staff sergeant will be charged. He can remain in custody for as long as 30 days without charges. Prosecutors said last week that five charges were under consideration, including assault and obstruction of justice.
South Korean authorities have given conflicting statements about the other two soldiers. Some say both remain under investigation; others say only the corporal, who told police that she fired a BB gun at passersby “for fun,” might face charges.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.