Sorry about handcuffing Korean nationals and trying to drag them back to base: USFK

USFK commander James Thurman and 7th Air Force commander Jan-Marc Jouas has issued an apology for American MPs handcuffing three Korean men outside Osan Air Base:

“I want to express my sincere apology to the individuals and community affected by the incident,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), in a press release.

Seven U.S. military policemen got into an argument over parking with three South Koreans in a bustling area near a U.S. military camp in Pyeongtaek, a provincial city of 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on Thursday.

The military policemen on duty at the time of the incident handcuffed the three local men, including a 35-year-old man surnamed Yang, and tried to haul them into a U.S. military base nearby.

Nice going there.

I’m a bit perplexed, though—aren’t the MPs supposed to be accompanied by Korean cops when they go out on patrol? Why didn’t they just let the KNP handle the situation? Sure, it seems like one of the victims was being a dick—something even some sections of the Korean netizenry admit—but surely, there were better ways to handle this, no?

Frankly, I’m surprised incidents involving American MPs don’t happen more often. I get why the MPs need to patrol, but having the law enforcement arm of a foreign military patrolling your neighborhood seems like a recipe for disaster. Must be testament to the MPs’ professionalism that you don’t hear much about them.

Just out of curiosity, do MPs patrol off-base like they do here in other countries like Japan and Germany?

(HT to Kimchi GI)

UPDATE: GI Korea writes:

I can definitely see the Korean national being upset since he has probably parked in front of his business for years off loading equipment and now someone is telling him to move his truck. If the Korean national was being uncooperative the security forces personnel should have just stepped back from the confrontation and waited for the local police to arrive to handle the situation. You would think after the Osan Shakedown Scandal that the security personnel would be very careful not to create another black eye for the airbase.

Ah, who could forget the Osan Shakedown Scandal? Well, I did, so a big thanks to GI Korea for that trip down Memory Lane.

The funniest thing I’ve read was by historian and big-time Twitter guy Chun Woo-yong, who wrote:

The commander of the US 7th Air Force said he “sincerely apologizes” to Pyeongtaek City and city’s residents for the “handcuff incident.” It seems he doesn’t know the maxim “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” He could have just said “I didn’t know” while punishing only the platoon leader or company commander, Korean-style.

  • Creo69

    The KT article makes it sound like they can do this in some circumstances. The Koreans are saying they didn’t give them reason to cuff them. He said, she said without some sort of video. Is it better to cuff some guys and apologize later or let some angry guy fight until he gets his hands on an MP’s gun. I say an apology is favorable to a human life.

  • bumfromkorea

    I think there is a video clip recording the incident (CCTV of the shop in question), so it should be pretty clear once that’s released (if it hasn’t been already).

    I’m seeing a lot of “varied” details on this, from ‘the victim was taking a swing at the MPs’ to ‘the MPs just started to cuff the victims’ and everything else in between.

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  • Sperwer

    The MPs didn’t try to drag these guys onto the base; they restrained them pending arrival of KNP, which is the proper, agreed upon procedure. Why there were no KNP with them from the outset is uncertain; but NB that this isn’t a case of MPs “in” camptown, where they also frequently are unescorted, but on the boundary of the base, enforcing an obvious security concern. Ergo,as expedient as it may appear, no apology should have been necessary; this was just accepted SOP. Nor should any “apology” have been issued (although an expression of regret as carefully crafted as Kurt Campbell’s recent atatement on the Sea of Japan contretemps might have been in order. Issuing an aplogy in these circumstances is like a parent apologizing to a child after discoplining him for shoplifting. It undoubtedly will come back to haunt USFK in the future.

  • JW

    Sperwer, you make a claim about facts directly contradicting the news source and yet provide no corroborating reference. Hello?

  • GI Korea

    If the KT article is accurate the security forces personnel should have just stepped away from the situation and let the Korean police handle it. I once had to go to the front gate of a camp to deal with a taxi driver that said a soldier stiffed him. I checked the meter and he did not run it. The soldier told me that halfway through what should have been a 3500 won ride he demanded $20 for the ride or the soldiers would have to get out and miss curfew.

    So when they got to the camp they refused to pay $20. I told the guy it was his fault for not running the meter and to move his cab. The cab driver got confrontational and even started trying to do the ajushi push to provoke me. I did not push back or try to restrain the guy, I simply walked to the guard shack and told the Young Korean police draftees to call their supervisor to handle the situation. Their supervisor arrived and listened to what happened and told the cab driver he should of run the meter and that if he did not move the cab he would be arrested. The cab driver was pissed but he moved the cab and there was no international incident.

    I can easily imagine this guy in Osan getting confrontational and pushing the security forces personnel. However unless these guys were assaulting them with a weapon like a baseball bat I see no reason to handcuff and detain these people. Based on the information available it seems to me they should have just stepped back from the situation and let the police handle it.

    The Korean police get criticized quite a bit but every time I have had to deal with them I have had no issues and they do a good job of diffusing situations like this.

  • gbevers

    First, since Robert forgot to mention it in his post, US military police apparently do have the authority to detain Korean citizens outside their base until the Korean police arrive, according to a representative of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

    A person with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said, “US military police (MP) in Korea are allowed to operate outside their base to protect their base facilities. If a problem arised during their patrols, the US MPs can restrain people until the Korean police arrive, after which they mutually cooperation to deal with the problem. It seems that part did not go smoothly.

    외교통상부 관계자는 “주한미군 헌병이 자신들의 기지시설 보호를 위해 영외에서 활동할 수 있도록 돼 있다”면서 “순찰 도중 문제가 생기면 한국 경찰이 도착하기 전까지 미 헌병이 제지할 수는 있는데 경찰이 도착한 이후 서로 협조하도록 돼 있다. 그 부분이 원활하지 않았던 것 같다”고 말했다.


    Second, to answer Robert’s question as to why there were no Korean police patroling with the American MPs, I have read that it was because the Korean police were short on manpower because of their budget.

    The Air Force Security Police repeatedly asked the Korea shopowner to move his car, which was illegally parked, but the shopowner refused to do so until after he finished eating his chicken. When the Korean shopower finally did move his car and returned to his shop, the Air Force Security Police (SP) informed him that they had called the Korean police and that he should wait until they arrive. This put the Korean shopower in a bad mood, so he decided to close up shop earlier, even chasing some customers out of his shop.

    After the shopowner comes out of his shop, the stories start to conflict. The Korean shopowner claims that he closed up his shop with the intent of waiting outside with the Air Force SPs until the Korean police arrived, but that the SPs started trying to handcuff him as soon as he finished locking his shop door and setting his security alarm. That was when he started resisting.

    The Air Force SPs, on the other hand, are saying that the man tried to run away after he closed up shop and knocked one SP to the ground when he tried to stop him, and that he continued to resist forcing them to handcuff him. Also, it was mentioned that the SPs carry loaded weapons, so handcuffing a belligerent person is safer for the SPs and the person resisting.

  • KimcheeGI

    SBS has the video. Or portions of it. Can’t wait to see the full version.

  • gbevers


    Yes, I am looking forward to seeing the full video, as well. I wonder why it is not up, yet.

    By the way, THIS KBS News article says that even thought the Korean police are supposed to patrol the Rodea Drive area in front of the base with the US military police, they normally do not do it because of a manpower shortage at the Songtan Police station. The article says they only send conscripted Korean police officers to patrol with the Americans on Friday and Saturday nights between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

    I don’t understand why there would be a shortage of “conscripted” police officers.

  • RolyPoly

    Thank you for the tape. I speak both languages fluently and have served in the US military and this is what I think happened.

    1) The shop owner had parked the car illegally – he knew the regulation and the MPs are in the area. But, he decide to ignore it. Why? Maybe he was busy. But, he may be staging this from the very beginning.
    2)When MPs notified him, he moved the car. And, he start to close the shop. – Is this normal time to close? Or, was he trying to run?
    3) When the shop owner came out, MPs were worried that he may run before Korean Police(KP) got there. So, they cuffed him (mistake 1) – MPs should have just let him go while promising him they would come back with KP the following day. That is all they needed to do. Cuffing him was a big mistake. The guy owned the shop, so he would be in the shop on the following day. Or, even he runs, MPs had done their job. Only other possibility is that this was not the first time this guy ignored the regulation.
    4) When the brother of the shop owner tried to push MPs, MPs should have just let him go with warning. MPs did not. (mistake 2). – MPs want to show something? Gbever, these guys need more training. About how to handle themselves in a foreign country.
    5) When KPs got there, MPs should have followed what KPs told them (the mistake 3 and the CRUCIAL mistake) – MPs needed better training. Their officer should be sent home.
    6)They pulled the guy handcuffed while KPs are shouting “let him go” (continuation of CRUCIAL mistake) – now MPS are violating the regulation. They finally made this into national incident.

    Maybe this whole thing was staged by Jolla Commie sympathizer and MPs got trapped. This may make Jolla Commies (pro-Chinese faction) control the next administration.

  • RolyPoly

    These MPs are totally out of the line. When KPs told them what to do, these guys should have followed it. Not ignore it. They did not respect KPs and they did it as a group.

    Their officer should be reprimanded and may even should stand in Korean court. Just send him and MPs home.

    And, keep issuing “Sorry, we made mistake” statements. This is in PR stage.

    Park GunHye was very a weak candidate. And, this thing blow her out of the water. To keep her candidacy, she may have to slam these kids. Her camp may make very strong statement condemning this incident.

    Just keep low profile.

  • gbevers


    Mistake 1: The Korean police failed to supply officers to patrol with the Air Force SPs, ignoring policy.

    Mistake 2: The Korean shopowner parked illegally.

    Mistake 3: The Korean shopowner refused repeated requests to move his car, telling the SPs to wait until after he had finished eating his chicken, showing contempt for the authority of the SPs.

    Mistake 4: The Korean shopowner got his feelings hurt when he came back from moving his car to find the SPs still in front of his store and hearing that they had called the Korean police and wanted him to wait until they arrived.

    Mistake 5: The Korean shopowner decided to close up his shop “early” and leave before the Korean police arrived. He claims he closed up early because he felt threatened, but if he felt threatened, why would he close up and go outside to wait with the SPs instead of waiting inside with his customers?

    Mistake 6: The Korean shopowner tried to leave before the Korean police arrived, mistakenly assuming that the SPs had no authority to retrain him.

    Mistake 7: The Korean shopowner resisted being retrained by the SPs by knocking one of them down and fighting with the others.

    Mistake 8: The Korean shopowner yelled out to his friends for help, claiming he was being detained unjustly.

    Mistake 9: The shopowner’s friends tried to physically interfere with the SPs efforts to subdue their friend.

    Mistake 10: Koreans assumed the SPs had no authority to walk the Korean shopowner and his friends back toward the base gate, which seems to have been the prudent thing to do since an angry Korean crowd was gathering.

    I do not know when the Korean police arrived, but I wonder why the SPs stopped 150 meters from the base gate. Could that have been when the Korean police finally arrived? Afterall, the Korean police were supposedly shorthanded. Could the few Korean police there have dealt with an angry crowd?

    Also, the Korean policeman on scene told the Koreans that the SPs had the authority to detain them, suggesting that the Koreans did not know that fact beforehand.

    Watching the video, it seemed it was the Koreans who were not respecting the authority of the SPs, rather than the SPs not respecting the authority of the Korean police; however, I would like to see the whole video before making an final judgment.

  • cm

    Gbevers, I think you’ve already made your final judgement, even before the detail of the story and the video was shown.

    Your theory doesn’t even add up. If the MP’s were really waiting for the Korean national police, why didn’t they work with them, when they arrived on the scene, instead they were ignored? And please excuse my ignorance, but after the man moved his car, why didn’t the MP’s just move on, instead of making this into a big deal trying to arrest the man on what charges? Illegal parking? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Why did James Thurman apologize so quickly?

  • cm

    “The shopowner’s friends tried to physically interfere with the SPs ”

    By the way, that was his brother. I don’t blame him for trying to help his brother if he was being unjustly arrested.

  • gbevers

    Cm wrote (#12):

    And please excuse my ignorance, but after the man moved his car, why didn’t the MP’s just move on, instead of making this into a big deal trying to arrest the man on what charges? Illegal parking? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    You’re excused.

    The Korean man showed contempt for the SPs by refusing to move his car until he was ready. In the meantime, the SPs had probably already called the Korean police. Allowing the Korean shopowner to show comtempt for the authority of the SPs would only invite more contempt.

    Why did James Thurman apologize so quickly?

    Obviously only to soothe the hurt feelings of Koreans since the investigation has yet to be completed. Anyway, I wonder how much Americans in the US will appreciate THIS PHOTO.

  • Robert Koehler

    Gerry, you forgot Mistake 11: American MPs try to detain Korean civilian over a parking violation. When a Foreign Ministry official says “주한미군 헌병이 자신들의 기지시설 보호를 위해 영외에서 활동할 수 있도록 돼 있다”면서 “순찰 도중 문제가 생기면 한국 경찰이 도착하기 전까지 미 헌병이 제지할 수는 있는데”, I don’t think parking violations are what they had in mind.

    Anyway, I wonder how much Americans in the US will appreciate THIS PHOTO.

    I wonder how much Americans in the US would appreciate being handcuffed and detained by foreign military cops in their own country. I’m guessing not very much.

  • ZenKimchi

    When I lived in Heidelberg, Germany, I remember most of the U.S. installations were fairly isolated, surrounded by heavily trafficked roads or countryside, so there would be no reason for cars to park illegally. But then again, that was Germany, where drivers stop at a crosswalk if a pedestrian even remotely looks like he may cross.

  • shinramyun4214

    hmm interesting.

  • madar

    Channel 5, SBS news, just aired a video of this incident filmed from a cell phone or what not from a bar across the street above it, (opposite the S bar, whatever that is, imperfectly blurred out,) with no explanation of what might have been going on. It just showed the MP’s handcuffing Korean nationals followed by 2 KP’s showing up late and acting rather impotent. I smell a new protest.

  • Sperwer

    Korea Times / fact?
    Does not compute; does not compute
    Hell, the article misrepresents the most important legal point re the jurisdictional authority of the MPs

  • RolyPoly

    “The Korean man showed contempt for the SPs ”

    So, SPs can just handcuff any Koreans who show contempt. Man, where are you from? You are behind times by forty years.