Police apologize for mishandling assault case of SJM's unionists
By Yi Whan-woo
The country’s police chief expressed regret Wednesday for mishandling an assault case, after hired “security guards” attacked unionists of an auto parts manufacturer on July 27 in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.
“It’s regretful that the incident makes people believe the police are not trustworthy,” said Kim Ki-yong, commissioner general of the National Police Agency (NPA).
He ordered the police to conduct an internal investigation and take disciplinary action against the officers responsible.
Kim also said he will form a special unit that deals with violence by private “security firms” to prevent such an incident from happening again.
The announcement came amid mounting criticism against police for allegedly ignoring the assault on the 150 SJM plant workers by the security staff hired by the parts maker.
The 200 men from Contactus, a private security service firm, assaulted the unionists early in the morning when they were protesting against the company’s lockout at the plant.
According to the SJM labor union, one of its members called the 112 Emergency Call Center at 4:30 a.m. The riot police belatedly arrived on the scene at 5:30 a.m. and remained outside the plant, taking no action to prevent the violent actions of the security staff.
The guards beat the protesters with clubs and shields and threw sharp pieces of metal at them. The attack left more than 30 workers injured. Ten of them were seriously hurt when they were forced to jump out of a window after being surrounded by guards inside a building. The incident lasted throughout the morning.
The NPA said the attack could have been stopped if the 220-man police force outside had intervened immediately on arrival.
“We found that the attack became violent especially around 5 a.m. and 6:20 a.m.,” an investigator said. “And if the riot police had suppressed the security guards as soon as they had arrived on the scene, we could avoid the assault at 6:20 a.m.”
The NPA added that the chief of the Ansan Danwon Police Station, only identified as Woo, and other ranking officers instead called the head of SJM and urged him to withdraw the security staff.
Woo and others responsible could be suspended or even fired, according to the NPA.
It also said it will take punitive measures against the commanding officer of the riot police. According to the NPA, he did not take any action as he mistook the security guards for policemen in the dark as they were wearing helmets and protective gear.
The officers at the 112 Emergency Call Center will not be punished because they immediately reported the case to the nearest police station to the scene, the NPA said.
It is considering a suspension for the security firm that sent employees to the scene.
“A private security firm can intervene in protests and strikes but it must report to us in advance for us to keep an eye on any possible violent acts. Contactus obviously failed to do its duty,” an official said.
The NPA’s announcement regarding the disciplinary action came after the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), an umbrella organization for the SJM labor union and the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) called for a thorough investigation.
The two have criticized the police, the ruling Saenuri Party and Ministry of Employment and Labor for ignoring the human rights of the laborers.
“The ministry said it will deal with the case on July 31 but it has not made any progress since then,” a KMWU official said. “It also said the protest by workers was illegal and while the lockout by the firm was legal, such a stance partially helped SJM brutally suppress its own employees.”