On May 27, 2021 the Seoul Metropolitan Police issued its mid-investigation report into the mysterious drowning death of 21-year-old medical student Son Jung Min. But the public didn’t believe it. In front of a tense press conference, the police department said 2) there was no indication of criminal activity, 2) they would pursue all avenues of possibilities and 3) Son Jung Min died of drowning.
It had been a month since the accident and public sentiment soured against police ability and trust. Either they were bungling the case or were being bought off by the parents of Son Jung Min’s companion at the park, “Mister A”. In any event, no one believes the police are pursuing all avenues of possibilities. This mid-investigation report is obviously a rough draft of the final paper.
In terms of real world practical office politics, no one would dare overturn the heavily one-sided direction of the interim report. It lays the foundation to absolve Mister A of any guilt and to suggest a high likelihood that Son Jung Min just walked into the river to his death. To challenge this notion is to challenge your boss. To challenge the direction the train is going in the workplace? You’ll find getting your next paycheck a challenge.
You can access the full interim report here:
Shocking even the most cynical skeptics were the series of rebuttals to accusations against Mister A as if the responses came directly from his defense lawyer and not from a police department. In particular was a harsh implication that Son Jung Min’s father was lying about his son’s fear of the water. The police said it had obtained photo and video evidence of Son Jung Min enjoying the ocean during an overseas vacation and at a pool here in Korea.
Immediately following was a statement that the police would work on figuring out how Son Jung Min made his way into the Han River. The unrelated sentences imply the police will figure out how they can prove Son Jung Min would logically and willingly walk into the water to his own death.
More chilling still is the proportion of the interim report’s reliance solely on Mister A’s testimony without outside corroboration or fact-checking. And if there is corroboration, the evidence is usually in the form of a very dubious ‘eyewitness’ account. The most egregious case can be seen in what I’ll call the ‘wet taxi’ exhibit.
In order to respond to accusations that Mister A had been wet from going into the river, the police seem to defend Mister A on his behalf by presenting the testimony of his taxi driver on his way home. The taxi driver says he couldn’t recall or tell if Mister A’s clothes had been wet. But he did remember that when his shift was over, his backseats were dry when he went to do his regular cleanup. There was no mention of when he ended his shift. How many hours had transpired between Mister A’s ride and the end of his shift? How many passengers and come and gone after Mister A? Instead, the answer was taken as sufficient proof that Mister A had been toasty dry upon leaving the riverside park at 4:32 a.m. on April 25, 2021.
Had the police truly explored all possibilities to uncover the truth, at minimum, they would have conducted a real forensics test on SJM’s phone, released all of the CCTV footage (including those from the bridge) available, and called witnesses closer to the two men during the critical hours of 3:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. than the witnesses on the current list.
Out of politeness and prudence, the Korean public is labeling the police actions as ‘incompetence’, but most believe the chilling opposite is true – cunning ability facilitated by power, money and connections to cover up a deadly accident or crime that leaves all of us vulnerable in a society where the police and the prosecution can be manipulated by the powerful.