Posted September. 28, 2017 07:47,
Updated September. 28, 2017 08:47
Citizens who have suffered losses due to unfair conduct of public officials are usually entitled to claim compensation from both the state and public officials. The bereaved family members of Baek Nam-gi, who was struck by a police water cannon in 2015 during the largest anti-government demonstration, filed a lawsuit against the government and two police officers surnamed Han and Choi, who were operating the water cannon car, to compensate 50 million won, respectively, for damages in connection with the farmer’s death. In a typical damage suit, the government pays compensation first and then makes police officers pay for the amount if they have intention or gross negligence. The state assumes all the responsibility in a case where officers make minor mistakes. Of course, there would be no compensation for damages without improper or wrongful conduct.
Surprisingly, the two officers, not the state, have recently submitted a “document of recognition and acceptance of demands,” a legal instrument to show their willingness to accept all the plaintiff’s demands, to the court even before the judicial procedure is completed. Since this appears to be a clear acknowledgement of their intention or gross negligence, compensations will not be made by the government. The question is why the low-level officers, who are not at all high earners, have decided to pay out of their pocket in such a controversial lawsuit for their act on duty. The policemen explained their acceptance, citing that it was heartbreaking for them to watch the bereaved family in pain and grief. To be sure, their frustration and agony are fully understood, but this reporter does not think that is the only reason.
When the plaintiff initially filed a lawsuit, the defendant was the Park Geun-hye administration. It is now the Moon Jae-in administration that goes through legal proceedings. The Moon administration seems to have no willingness to win this case but knows very well that it will not be safe from criticism if it comes out to recognize and accept all the responsibility. It appears that, for this reason, the two police officers stand before the court and take responsibility on behalf of the government.
The prosecution under the former Park administration conducted an investigation into the police responses to protestors using the water cannon and concluded that there were no charges found for indictment. As prosecutors are now reinvestigating the case, police officers must have been feared being indicted, and even if they are not prosecuted, they are afraid of the police leadership, who has authority over personnel affairs. Shin Yoon-kyun, the then head of riot squad, is also expected to submit a document acknowledging his responsibility for the death of Baek. Former National Police Agency Commissioner Kang Shin-myung and former Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Chief Goo Eun-su, both of whom retired, will reportedly continue legal action.