By Yoonjung Seo, Sophie Jeong and Jessie Yeung, CNN
Two former police officers were arrested in South Korea on Monday, accused of destroying evidence relating to the deadly Halloween crowd crush in Seoul, according to authorities in the country.
The arrests of former intelligence officers Park Sung-min of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Kim Jin-ho of Yongsan Police are the first in an ongoing investigation into the disaster that killed 158 people in October.
They allegedly ordered their subordinates to destroy an internal report about the risks stemming from a large crowd gathering in Itaewon during Halloween festivities.
The two officers were already dismissed from their posts in November over their handling of the Itaewon incident. Under the terms of arrest warrants for the pair issued by a Seoul court on Monday, prosecutors now have 10 days to file charges.
Most of those killed in the October 29 crush were young adults and teenagers, who were among tens of thousands of partygoers that poured into Seoul’s Itaewon district to celebrate Halloween. Many became trapped as the narrow streets clogged up, with survivors and witnesses saying there was little police presence or crowd control until it was too late.
On Monday, the court also denied arrest warrants for former Yongsan Police officer Lee Im-jae — who was chief of the station — and former emergency monitoring officer Song Byung-joo. Both are under suspicion of professional negligence in relation to the crowd crush resulting in deaths and injuries.
In dismissing the warrants, the court cited a low likelihood of Lee and Song destroying evidence or fleeing. They remain under investigation.
Following the disaster, a special police unit was formed to investigate what went wrong — with officers raiding police stations and offices across the capital, collecting internal police reports and documents about emergency calls.
According to those call logs, at least 11 emergency calls — growing increasingly urgent — were made to the police, pleading for crowd control, then for rescuers. The first calls came as early as four hours before the tragedy unfolded.
Both local and national authorities have since faced growing public anger and demands for accountability, with some people calling for President Yoon Suk Yeol’s removal over the tragedy.
“I’m desperately asking the politicians of this country. If you’re serious about the pain of the bereaved, you need to become honest. You need to conduct a proper investigation and apologize to our children,” the mother of one 29-year-old victim said at a news conference on November 22. Holding her son’s death certificate, she said the exact cause, timing and location of his death remained unknown.
Other bereaved parents at the news conference, represented by the non-profit organization Minbyun, described their own difficulties in the process; one father said it took him 17 days to connect with other bereaved families, claiming the government was not providing adequate support.
When asked about those claims, an official from the presidential office said a thorough investigation “should be conducted,” and the government was looking into providing further compensation and comfort “if the scope of responsibility and the legal perpetrator are clarified.”
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