Milwaukee court upholds Japanese civil judgment against serviceman who left country

U.S. sailor’s rape victim wins case

by David Mcneill

Special To The Japan Times

A woman has won a landmark civil judgment against the American serviceman she accuses of raping her near the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 2002.

Catherine Fisher revealed Monday that the Milwaukee County Circuit Court has enforced a Japanese civil judgment for rape against Bloke T. Deans, a former U.S. sailor who now lives in Milwaukee. He was never charged with the crime.

Fisher, an Australian citizen and long-term Japan resident, said the verdict is the first in which a foreign judgment for rape has been enforced in a U.S. court.

“History has been made,” Fisher told The Japan Times. She said the result will make it more difficult for U.S. military personnel to evade justice after committing a crime in Japan. “But it does make me angry that Deans is still free. I think he should be in prison.”

Her lawyer, Chris Hanewicz, who fought the case pro bono, praised Fisher’s “incredible strength and determination.”

“We are very proud to have represented Ms. Fisher in her tireless efforts to finally recognize a judgment to which she has long been entitled.”

Fisher demanded a nominal sum of a single dollar as settlement.

“Anybody who knows me knows it is not about the money,” she explained. “I did this for all the women who have been raped in this country by the U.S. military over the last 70 years.”

The verdict is likely to deepen the controversy surrounding the case. Deans left Japan soon after the rape and never came back. Fisher has always maintained the U.S. military helped him evade justice and that the Japanese government did little to help pursue him.

That claim has apparently been strengthened by a statement submitted by Deans to the court, in which he says a U.S. Navy lawyer told him to leave the country.

“When they — my lawyer came and told me, ‘you are now leaving Japan’ I said, ‘okay,’ ” the statement reads. “I just followed orders. I don’t have no say-so. I’m thinking everything is done.”

Fisher, who in media appearances went under the pseudonym “Jane” for years to protect her privacy, said the revelation helped vindicate her 12-year legal fight, during which she repeatedly crossed swords with U.S. and Japanese officialdom and filed a total of seven court cases.

“When I saw that document, I finally had the truth,” she said. “That was the most important thing for me. Why was he disappearing; why wasn’t anyone questioning him? Officials told me they were helping me, but that was all lies.”

The U.S. military made no immediate comment on the statement.

Deans was given an honorable discharge after the incident and returned to Milwaukee, where he has had a series of tussles with the law. In November 2004, a Tokyo court ordered him to pay ¥3 million after Fisher filed and won a civil suit against him, but there was no jurisdictional authority to force payment.

Later, she received compensation from the Defense Ministry that came out of a fund for civilian victims of crimes by U.S. military personnel. She sued the Kanagawa Prefectural Police for what she described as their incompetent investigation into her rape but lost in December 2007. She appealed the decision.

Fisher tracked Deans down to his U.S. address and began a legal battle there. She said the fight had left her mentally, physically and financially “depleted.”

“My son was in elementary school when this started,” she said. “Now he is 18. I’ve not been able to pay for things for him, pay for Christmas presents, the normal things that kids have.”

At several stages, Fisher said, Japanese plainclothes officers followed her when she appeared in public.

Her treatment highlights profound problems with how the U.S. and Japanese authorities handle such cases, she said.

“A U.S. serviceman, here to serve and protect civilians, raped me. I was then denied criminal court action by the Japanese government. Nobody would help me.”

Fisher initially fought to have Deans extradited back to Japan, but a team of bureaucrats from the Defense, Justice and Foreign ministries said the Status of Forces Agreement with Washington did not allow them to request extradition.

The SOFA is the legal framework governing U.S. service members in Japan. Article 17 gives the U.S. military the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over its own personnel for crimes committed in Japan while “on duty.” Japanese authorities have legal jurisdiction over crimes committed off-duty.

“I met with the Japanese government again and asked again for help,” said Fisher. “When I finally tracked him down in the U.S., I told them: ‘He’s in prison and now we know where he is.’ They said, ‘We don’t have a budget to send court documents from the Tokyo District Court to the U.S.’ Can you believe it?”

Deans was apparently incarcerated briefly for misdemeanor child-neglect, and a contact brought this to Fisher’s attention at the time.

Fisher said she will continue to fight to have the SOFA scrapped or amended to force American military personnel to obey the laws of Japan. She is demanding that the Japanese government set up a 24-hour, publicly funded rape crisis center and to educate “all levels of the justice system, from cops to judges” about the crime.

“I also want an immediate investigation into my case and compensation,” Fisher said. “If there is no compensation, we will take a class-action suit. This is not over.”

Hanewicz said the Milwaukee verdict brings the case to a close in the United States.

  • Paul Murphy

    Well done Ms Fisher, your determination is an inspiration, good luck with the rest of your fight.

  • John Somon

    While his escape from justice in Japan is bad my issue with this is how the japanese government handles this stuff in general I also don’t like his the focus is always on the military wrong doings yes they commit crimes some times but simple facts are japan isnt crime free without the ones commited by the USmilitary personal. This stuff gets brought up like its only them commiting crimes. Japanese people also commit all the crimes US personal have before and I’d wager good money the numbers of Japanese on Japanese crime is way higher then the number of US on Japanese for the same crimes.

    • Paul Murphy

      John, it’s true that the number of crimes committed by US military personnel in Japan is low; research by an academic at Nara University some years back showed that the crime rate of the US military in Japan is about half that of Japanese. The big problem is that if a Japanese rapist is caught the victim can expect that he will be brought before a Japanese court. The same is not always true for US military personnel, which leads people understandably to conclude that the US military is contemptuous, even racist, toward the locals.

      • Guest

        If what you say is true and the crime rate of the U.S. military in Japan is about half that of the Japanese who tremendously outnumber them…that’s a huge problem.

      • Paul Murphy

        The crime rate is not the overall number of crimes, it’s the number of crimes committed per person

    • EA234

      Did you notice how the American military handled this case?

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    I want to say to Jane that she might have deprived her son of material possessions, but she has modelled convictions far more important than mere things. Many years ago my mother took action against a fraudster who evaded prosecution in the US. It took some 15 years to receive a settlement. It amazes me to see people with so much strength.

  • CHATTERBOX

    Astounding. That was the only word that immediately came to mind after reading the article. That anyone should have to work so hard and wait so long to see justice is an insult to injury. But having lived in Japan a while myself I’m only too familiar with the inept, apathetic and slow systems in the country. If you’re talking sales Japan is the best in the world, but God forbid there be a problem to solve… Mercy! So Catherine Fisher you have my respect, support and prayers. I hope that you can fight on and win the compensation you clearly deserve.

  • Constance Chapman

    In the US, its not much better. Victims are forced and coerced to recant and then they are arrested and the whole thing is then swept under the rug. If we all stand together and speak out maybe we can change this.

  • James Dirscherl

    He only has to pay a 1$?