KOBE – Hyogo Prefecture was slapped with a court order Wednesday to pay 97 million yen to the family of a man murdered in 2002, saying an inappropriate police response led to his death.
The Kobe District Court ruled that Hyogo Prefectural Police, after being told of Kuniaki Uranaka’s kidnapping, could have saved his life if they had rushed to the site of his abduction and conducted proper questioning of the offenders and other people there.
Uranaka’s mother, 64, had sought 137 million yen in damages from the Hyogo Prefectural Government.
She said her son, who was a 27-year-old Kobe University of Mercantile Marine graduate student, would not have died if police had acted properly.
Presiding Judge Yasuyuki Muraoka said in handing down the ruling that the police work “was grossly inappropriate and unreasonable, and takes on the character of illegality.”
Muraoka said officers “could have fully foreseen that Mr. Uranaka would be beaten and killed. If they had not erred, they could have rescued him.”
In August, the court ruled in a criminal trial that former mob boss Takayuki Sato and five former members of his group abducted and beat Uranaka and left him to die outdoors in March 2002.
The leader was sentenced to 20 years and the five others to between 10 and 14 years. The court criticized police for failing to take appropriate measures when Uranaka’s friend notified them of the kidnapping.
On Wednesday, Muraoka also ordered Sato and six others to pay 97 million yen in damages to Uranaka’s mother, and told five of them to pay 3.3 million yen to Uranaka’s friend, who was seriously wounded.
Muraoka noted police did not go immediately to the scene after being told of the assault and failed to communicate fully with each other regarding information that Uranaka may have been put in a car.
The judge rejected the prefecture’s assertion that police could not predict the incident would lead to murder, indicating they should have presumed this outcome, given the conduct of the mobsters.
Uranaka was assaulted March 4, 2002, in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Nishi Ward, Kobe, after he and a friend got into a row with Sato and his cohorts over parking.
Sato and his companions beat Uranaka and his friend, put Uranaka in a car and took him to a mountain where they continued to beat him until he died. Uranaka’s body was found the following day in a river about 5 km from the apartment complex.
According to the mother’s lawyer, Wednesday’s ruling is the first in Japan to recognize a causal relationship between police negligence in a criminal probe and a victim’s death.
In May 2002, Hyogo police punished the head of the Kobe-Nishi Police Station and nine officers over the incident with salary cuts and reprimands.