Navy officer accused of assault back in US custody
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Navy lieutenant who police say groped and punched a Japanese woman aboard a Tokyo-bound flight last week is back in U.S. custody following his arrest, Navy officials said Monday night.
Japanese police transferred the 33-year-old lieutenant to Naval Air Facility Atsugi officials on Saturday night, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement. Japanese prosecutors had not yet charged the man Monday, which was a holiday in Japan. However, the officer could end up facing both Japanese charges and further counts under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“We’re investigating him for a military offense that could have occurred under the UCMJ, and that is why he was released to us,” Naval Forces Japan spokesman Cmdr. Ron Flanders said.
Narita International Airport police told Stars and Stripes that the officer had reportedly touched another passenger, a 19-year-old Japanese college student, on the thigh, and also punched her in the head repeatedly over a 90-minute period, while aboard a flight headed from San Diego to Tokyo on Thursday.
The assault ended after another passenger notified a flight attendant and moved the woman to another seat. The officer was arrested early Friday after an investigation that began when the plane landed.
The extent of the assault being alleged remains unclear. Initial reports indicated that police were investigating simple assault charges, which are in line with injuries that do not require serious hospitalization. However, it is ultimately up to prosecutors to determine the severity of any potential charges.
The lieutenant, whose name will be released if charged, is assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51 at Atsugi.
The officer’s arrest came just days after a Navy seaman apprentice was charged with raping a woman at a hotel room on the island of Okinawa, where about half of U.S. forces are based.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the incident “extremely regrettable” and told the U.S. to tighten discipline among servicemembers.
Servicemembers in Japan remain under an overnight curfew that began after two Reserve sailors on assignment to Okinawa were accused, and later convicted, of gang-raping a woman there in 2012. The curfew restrictions were relaxed in 2014 following a drop in high-profile criminal incidents.