Shortly before midnight on Dec 10, 2009, a 25-year-old university worker named Shinsuke Harada was making his way through Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station on his way home. Suddenly a young woman cried out, “He touched me!”
The woman’s male companion grabbed Harada, apparently roughed him up a bit, and hauled him over to a station employee. Station officials brought in the police. After some seven hours of questioning, Harada was released. Dazed and humiliated, Harada took a subway to Waseda Station and jumped in front of a moving train.
On Jan 29, 2010, Tokyo Metro police processed the case as “chikan” – groping – and passed the documentation on to prosecutors, who quietly laid the matter to rest in view of Harada’s death.
On April 26 of this year, Harada’s mother filed a civil damages suit against the city of Tokyo, on the grounds that police got prosecutors involved even though they knew that Harada was innocent, causing his family to suffer social disgrace.
Writing in Shukan Post (May 20), journalist Tetsuya Shibui notes that innocence is very hard to prove in a "chikan" case if the supposed victim stands firm, the more so if there are eyewitnesses. But that, he adds, does not apply here. Police records obtained by Harada’s mother seem to indicate that the woman retracted her accusation and stated clearly that Harada was not the perpetrator. If that is so, two questions arise: (1) Why was Harada not clearly assured as he left the station after questioning that he was no longer under suspicion? (2) Why did police send the file to prosecutors?
In the early stages of the altercation at Shinjuku Station, Harada managed to call 110, the police help line. A record of the call was found on his cell phone. Police are required to preserve the data pertinent to all such calls for one year, Shibui says, and Harada’s mother, following authorized procedure, was able to secure an edited copy. It shows her son calling at 11:27 p.m. to report being surrounded by station personnel. In the course of the investigation that followed, the police transcript seems to establish, the supposed victim told police at 4:30 a.m. that Harada’s clothing was different from that of the man who allegedly molested her.
At that point, Shibui says, Harada should have been absolved of all suspicion. Was he? If so, had he been clearly informed of the fact before he finally left the station at 5:30 a.m.? Again – if he had been absolved, why did the case move up to the prosecutors?
“It would have been a simple matter,” lawyer Tsutomu Shimizu tells Shibui, “for police to detain Harada longer if they considered him a suspect. If they let him go, the implication is that they no longer did view him as a suspect. Police absolutely want to be on a superior footing to the people they investigate. If they had apologized and Harada had got angry, it would have been unpleasant. That’s the only reason I can think of for not making it clear to him that he was no longer a suspect.”
If police had taken that patently appropriate measure, Harada might be alive today.© Japan Today