SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean police are filing manslaughter and negligence charges against 23 officials, including law enforcement officers, over a lack of security measures they say was responsible for a surge mob last year that killed nearly 160 people.
Despite anticipating a crowd of over 100,000 on Halloween weekend, Seoul police had assigned 137 officers to the capital’s Itaewon nightlife district on the day of the crash. These officers focused on monitoring drug use and violent crime, which experts said left few resources for pedestrian safety.
Son Je-han, who led the National Police Agency’s special investigation into the incident, said Friday his team would now send the case to prosecutors. Among those recommended for indictment are Park Hee-young, mayor of Seoul’s Yongsan district, and former district police chief Lee Im-jae, two of the six people arrested.
The results of the 74-day police investigation announced by Son mainly confirmed what was already clear – that police and officials in Yongsan did not use meaningful crowd control measures for the expected number of revelers in Halloween and essentially ignored calls from pedestrians to police hotlines who warned of a growing crowd hours before the wave turned deadly on October 29.
Officials also botched their response once people began to roll over and crash into a narrow lane crowded with revelers near the Hamilton Hotel around 10 p.m., failing to establish effective control of the scene and to enable rescuers to reach the injured in time, Son said.
“The inaccurate judgment of the situation, the slow dissemination of information on the situation, the poor cooperation between the institutions concerned and the delays in the rescue operations are some of the overlapping failures and caused the high number of victims” , Son said at a press conference in Seoul.
It’s unclear whether the results of the police investigation will be enough to quell public anger and government demands for accountability as the country still struggles to deal with its worst disaster in nearly a decade.
Opposition lawmakers and some relatives of the victims have called for investigations into more high-profile figures, such as Interior and Security Minister Lee Sang-min and National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun , who were called upon to resign.
However, Son said the special investigation team would close its investigations into the Ministry of Interior and Security, the National Police Agency and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, saying it was difficult to establish. their direct responsibility.
Some experts called the Itaewon crash a ‘man-made disaster’ that could have been avoided by fairly simple measures, such as employing more police and officials to monitor bottleneck points. , enforcing one-way traffic lanes and blocking narrow lanes or temporarily closing. Itaewon subway station to prevent a large number of people from moving in the same direction.