November 22, 2022
SEOUL – The special investigation team set up by the National Police Agency to look into the crowd crush in Itaewon summoned Lee Im-jae, then-chief of the Yongsan Police Station, and Yongsan Fire Chief Choi Seong-beom for questioning, Monday. Lee and Choi have been named as suspects regarding their response to the tragedy.
“I am sorry and once again sorry as a police station chief. I will live with guilt for the rest of my life,” Lee said as he showed up for questioning at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Mapo branch in western Seoul.
Lee was in charge of the Itaewon area under the Yongsan district at the time of the incident. He has been booked on charges of professional negligence and manslaughter by negligence.
The team questioned Lee on why he arrived late at the site, and the delay on notifying police leadership about the incident, and further about the police station’s preparations for crowd control over the Halloween weekend.
Lee arrived at the crowd crush site some 50 minutes after the incident happened though he was in near proximity, about a 10-minute drive away.
A point of contention also lies on whether Yongsan Police Station requested the deployment of a riot squad for crowd control in Itaewon over the Halloween weekend or not.
Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Chief Kim Kwang-ho claims the agency did not receive any requests for a riot squad to be deployed for crowd control in the Itaewon area.
“I have confirmed that we did not receive requests for riot squad deployment from Yongsan Police Station regarding the Halloween (festivities) after verifying with the 112 Emergency Dispatch and Operation Command Center and Public Order Management Division,” Kim said in a written statement released Monday.
The statement contradicts Lee’s claim that the station requested deployment but was turned down before the incident happened.
“Though (Yongsan Police Station) called for riot squad deployment to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency four days before the Itaewon tragedy, the request was turned down, citing the squads are needed for protest (management),” Lee said at a National Assembly meeting on Wednesday.
Choi has been booked on negligence as well. The investigation team is looking into the fire station’s emergency response to the tragedy and why it took nearly an hour to issue a second-stage response order.
“I will respond to the investigation for now,” Choi said as he showed up for questioning.