Suspicious recent death of NJ after being “restrained” on the street by Tokyo Police in daytime warrants more investigation and attention


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Hi Blog. As several Readers have been digging around and submitting to this forum under the aegis of a similar but separate event (start from here), there has been a suspicious death of a Non-Japanese (NJ) that warrants more investigation and attention. So let’s promote it to its own blog entry.

First, the Tokyo Weekender of March 5 reports tersely:


English Teacher Dies after Being Restrained by Police
Tokyo Weekender, News & Views – March 5th, 2015

A short article reporting the death of a 29-year-old English teacher who fell into a coma after being restrained by the police raises more questions than it answers.

The Jiji Press reported that the teacher, who was from the US, died in a hospital following a February 11 incident in the Akasaka area of Minato Ward. The Jiji article, reprinted on the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal, is scant on details, aside from the following: At around 5:30 pm on the Foundation Day holiday, police received a call about a foreigner behaving violently . When police approached the man, who was reported as a resident of Setagaya Ward, he responded violently. A total of six officers restrained the American by his arms and legs. In the struggle, the man went into cardiac arrest and was taken to a nearby hospital.

The man did not regain consciousness after the incident, and died on March 1. Police stated that the man did not seem to have suffered any external injuries.

No other information —- the man’s name, his home town, employer, or additional details about the conflict—has been provided thus far.  ENDS


Here are the quoted sources in Japanese, also glib:


Wall Street Journal Japan 2015 年 3 月 2 日 16:30 JST 更新






This has occasioned much cynical comment and even public protest. But we still don’t know much more than this.

However, we can speculate with some certainty on the following:

  1. This happened on a Wednesday afternoon before it was fully dark, meaning the chances of this person being drunk and disorderly were pretty low.
  2. This happened in a part of Tokyo that sees NJ as a public-security threat, with cops trained to racially-profile potential perps and carry out legally-questionable search activities.
  3. This happened on National Foundation Day, a day where there were nationalistic demonstrations by Japanese celebrating the accession of Japan’s first emperor.  While demonstrations on a day like this are not newsworthy enough to indicate that there was a concurrent demonstration in Akasaka, it is not a stretch to imagine this person being targeted by violent xenophobic elements, and the NPA taking the side of the rightists and targeting the NJ.
  4. The NPA not only has a record of lethally subduing NJ in custody, but also of covering it up.
  5. We don’t even have the basic information on who he is or even if international officials have gotten involved in the investigation. All we have is the deceased’s age, nationality, and occupation. That is insufficient, and the fact that more details are not forthcoming suggests a mishap or a coverup on the part of the NPA.  (It’s happened before.  Many times.)
  6. There have been cases of police arresting people for looking “suspicious”, but whose only apparent crime was standing around looking foreign in the eyes of local busybodies who called the cops (we know about this because these involved cases where persons arrested were Japanese citizens who just looked “foreign”).  So the accusation of violence on the part of the NJ is also not taken when Japanese cops have a history of overreaction towards NJ (those six cops sure got there in a hurry).

We simply don’t have enough information for a more informed assessment.  And we should.  Were there no witnesses?  With this much commotion and no doubt an ambulance called, didn’t anyone see anything in this densely-populated part of Tokyo?  Or is this just another case of another unknown fungible NJ winding up as the Dead Gaijin on a Gurney?

One speculation is that the lack of press investigation and scrutiny is because this case has somehow come under Japan’s newly-enacted Special Secrecy Law.  Seems a bit of a stretch, as this doesn’t seem to be something that ought to be fodder (how does the case one dead NJ qualify as an issue of national security?).  But if it did, this would really be the acid test that demonstrated just how far this law will be abused, and thus warrants further investigation.

If you have any friends in the Japan news media, point them towards this site and see if we can pique their interest and get them investigating.  I will too.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

17 comments on “Suspicious recent death of NJ after being “restrained” on the street by Tokyo Police in daytime warrants more investigation and attention

  • David S Young says:

    Doesn’t give very much info to go on. For instance his general health, was there a history of heart disease, was there a drug screening done yet, etc. But many laymen don’t realize that it’s not at all uncommon for people to die while being restrained.It’s rare, but is common enough that it has a name: Sudden Death Syndrome.

    Basically when a person has a manic episode they get an adrenaline dump that makes their heart beat faster, their muscles stronger, pain threshold rises, etc. And restraining them when they REALLY don’t want to be restrained makes it happen to a much higher degree. If you don’t get them calmed down, or if they’re already not in the best shape, their heart and nervous system ‘burn out’ and they have heart attacks. Hard to tell without an autopsy, but it’s a real possibility here.

  • Transparency, oversight, and actual journalism. That is what is needed in situations like this, and that is what Japan SERIOUSLY lacks.

    It could be a situation like David Young said, or it could be a serious case of police and criminal behavior. However, I’m certainly not going to trust the police agency’s word on this, especially when there is next to no information being released. Things seem very suspicious.

  • So a 29 year old guy suddenly has a heart attack… big cover up here no doubt… Debito maybe you could get the Japan Times on the case and get this story out there… thanks

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    And where is the autopsy? If so, will that information make it out to the public? Why no mention of it?

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ David S Young #2

    You may be right.
    But I can remember 2 reported cases of cardiac arrest follow ‘restraint’ by J-cops of Japanese nationals in the last 10 years (both times, the deceased was a woman).
    I can remember a similar case when J-immigration killed a NJ following ‘restraint’ during deportation, and now this new case, in the same time period.
    Given that the number of NJ in Japan is lower than the number of Japanese, it does seem that NJ are more susceptible, shall we say?
    Or maybe this shows a double standard with regards to the policing of NJ.
    I’m not going to start blaming the victim because the onus is on the police to provide more information and justify thier actions.
    The fact that the J-media isn’t asking them to speaks volumes.
    In any event, it seems that just as many J-cops seem to have a deficient understanding of stop-and-question/search law in Japan, they are also lacking in restraint procedure technique.

  • As I said on the other thread, “cardiac arrest” is just Japanese for dead. It says nothing about the real cause, just that death is broadly defined as no heartbeat. 6 guys sit on your chest for long enough, your heart would stop too. Of course it’s possible he had health/drug/drink issues but dollars to doughnuts the only relevant health problem he had was a bunch of men sitting on his chest until he died.

  • not wise to ship pills of any sort to Japan, but did they really need to “tie her up” to “some sort of restraint” and drive her all the way from Tokyo to Nagoya and hold her so long? What if her father wasn’t an attorney, and what if US ambassador didn’t intervene?

    Carrie Russell, the Oregon woman released from a Japanese jail Tuesday after days of intense diplomacy, says she was terrified upon her arrest Feb. 20 on suspicion of smuggling Adderall, an illegal amphetamine in Japan.

    Officers apprehended Russell in a Tokyo restaurant where she was eating dinner with a high school friend. They handcuffed her and escorted her to a vehicle for the 275-mile drive west to a detention center near Nagoya, a Japanese industrial hub.

    “I was tied up to some sort of restraint,” Russell said on Tuesday, Japan time, during a telephone interview shortly after being released.

    But the 2012 Western Oregon University graduate, who spent 18 days in the women’s detention center she described as clean and well run, hopes to return to Japan, probably to teach English as she did in South Korea.

    “In spite of this,” Russell said, “I love Japan.”

    Russell’s case has attracted international attention because of the improbability of her incarceration for a medication routinely prescribed by U.S. doctors for attention deficit disorder. The Adderall Russell shipped to Japan had been prescribed by her doctor in Oregon.

    While incarcerated, Russell remained unaware of the media attention and the high-level diplomatic efforts to win her release, which included members of Congress and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. A March 4 letter released Tuesday showed Oregon’s congressional delegation working together behind the scenes to secure Russell’s release.

    Loren Podwill, her stepfather, a top attorney at prominent West Coast law firm Bullivant Houser Bailey, played tactical ringleader for the family — which is close-knit, being that a good friend of Podwill’s married Carrie Russell’s father, John, after John and Jill divorced. The former couple, who adopted Carrie Russell as an infant, remain close.

    Podwill assiduously worked his contacts to enlist Oregon’s congressional delegation, Ambassador Kennedy and others in feverish diplomacy. Maneuvers extended as far as the White House, but cut a low profile until late Monday night, Pacific time, when U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Russell’s release.

    Wyden had spoken by phone to Kennedy in Japan, and to family members in Oregon. He told the family that Kennedy promised to make the case a top priority.

    It’s not publicly known whom Kennedy contacted in Japan’s government, or why the prosecutor decided to release Russell and not to file charges. Japanese laws against amphetamines are strict. Judges often impose lengthy prison sentences. Ignorance of the law is no defense.

    “The American ambassador really took this on as a personal thing, to communicate with the Japanese government, to make sure they understood that Carrie’s not a criminal,” said Podwill, who also spoke Tuesday by phone from Japan. He voiced thanks to Wyden, Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D.-Ore., as well as to Japanese officials.

    “They evaluated it and presumably came to the conclusion that there was no criminal intent, and this was not a drug-smuggling operation,” Podwill said. “This is a cultural and perhaps medical difference between the two countries.”

    In a news release issued late Monday night, Pacific time, Wyden said: “I’m thrilled that common sense has won the day and that Carrie is being released to her family. I want to thank Ambassador Kennedy and her staff for working closely with our office and their Japanese counterparts to get her released.”

    Podwill had also written a heartfelt apology, translated into Japanese, to the prosecutor in Nagoya.

    Having been told confidentially that the release was imminent, Podwill traveled from Portland to Nagoya in time to meet Russell when she was freed around midday Tuesday, Japan time. Speaking from a hotel room, he said she looked and sounded exhausted.

    “We hope that Carrie will have learned things that will make her a better person,” he said, “and will have educated American travelers to the risk of not checking first to make sure that your prescription drugs are legal where you’re going.”

    Russell acknowledged that she was tired. “It’s been a very long couple of weeks,” she said.

    She said the initial contact with police officers was off-putting. They approached her at the restaurant table. An officer showed her a photograph, she said, and asked whether the picture was of her.

    “I said, ‘Yes,'” Russell said. Officers told her they were arresting her on accusations of violating Customs law and bringing in medications.

    Later the officers became friendly and kind, she said. They tried to communicate in limited English with Russell, who knew only four words of Japanese. “They were actually really patient with me,” she said.

    After the story of her arrest was published by The Oregonian/Oregonlive, online commenters criticized Russell for disregarding or failing to research Japanese laws.

    Some commenters castigated her mother, Hillsboro physician Jill Russell, for repackaging the 180 Adderall pills in an unmarked container to send to her daughter Jan. 6 in South Korea. The generic 20-milligram pills were prescribed by Carrie Russell’s doctor, Michelle Mears, and not by her mother. Russell subsequently packed the unopened, unmarked container — apparently an old Tylenol bottle — with household goods mailed to Nagoya, where she had landed an English-teaching job.

    Other online commenters faulted Japanese officials for harshness in jailing someone for a medication common in the United States. Yet amphetamines have a sinister reputation in Japan, where the lucrative black-market trade is controlled by the Yakuza, the country’s main organized-crime syndicate.

    Still other commenters took a more neutral tone, seeing the case as a reminder for travelers to check for restrictions on medications in countries they plan to visit.

    Russell said that although her arrest was shocking, the detention center “was not anything terrifying,” Russell said. “The facility was clean. We had daily chores.”

    Inmates were served bento meals, Russell said, each with rice as a staple and small portions of noodles, potatoes, vegetables and other food. She said she learned some more Japanese language, such as, “How to say, ‘open,’ how to say, ‘refill my water,'” and, ‘I’m finished with my meal.'”

    Russell said she was not held in solitary confinement, as her family was initially told. Cellmates came and went during her time in detention, Podwill said.

    Russell plans to return to Oregon for now. Asked what the experience had taught her, she said, “definitely to check on the country I’m intending to visit, to see if a prescription is legal or illegal, and to not bring it if it’s illegal.”

    “I hope I can come back,” Russell said. “If I can land a job.”

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Well, I can’t work out if this girl is mentally ill or not.
    After being tied up (despite not resisting arrest), and avoiding serious jail time only because her family had top level connections working tirelessly on her behalf, she still wants to come back to Japan? She must be crazy. Or…

    The timing of this story is suspicious. Makes the press just when we are all complaining about an extra-judicial J-police killing. And this girl has such nice things to say about J-prisons and the legal system. Seems fishy to me.

  • JDG: no doubt being tied up, transported like cargo, and kept in limbo for 18 days isn’t helping whatever previous condition she had.

    It’s very common for prisoners, upon release, to express feelings of relief and joy, and to say things like “everybody was nice to me” and “conditions weren’t so bad”. But this is not how you feel when you have been wrongly jailed in a foreign country, your freedom taken away from you for the first time, not knowing how long you’ll be kept or if you’ll ever get out.

    I also wonder if she was able to get her possessions from her apartment, or money from her bank account, or payment from her employer? Maybe that’s why she “still loves Japan” and wants to go back soon.

    This case is ridiculous on all levels. Sending pills to your daughter in South Korea? Then shipping pills to yourself in Japan? What mythology about working in Japan or South Korea has distorted the thinking of people who assume nothing can go wrong in “safe” countries like this?

    While many commenters are already slamming Russell and her parents and doctors, the most important issue concerns the actions of authorities. It’s great that Japanese authorities are trying to keep dangerous drugs out of Japan. But in this particular case, did they really need to hunt her down in a restaurant, tie her up and drive her off to a jail for 18 days? Why not go to her home, school or office, and hold a meeting with her and her boss? Or maybe, after detaining her, call up her embassy’s consular staff immediately and ask what’s going on?

    They could ask: “what are these pills for?”

    She, her employers, or consular officials could say: “They are for her Attention Deficit Disorder. Many doctors in our country prescribe these pills. She’s not a criminal or drug smuggler.”

    She could then apologize, and maybe even pay a fine.

    The police could destroy the pills and say to her: “This time is a warning. You have no criminal record, and your embassy and employers say you’ve done nothing wrong. But we’re watching you. Don’t try this again.”

    But that’s not how they do it. Somehow, authorities have been trained to ASSUME that foreigners like her are somehow guilty. They don’t even bother contacting your employers or consular officers. They immediately get you into the weakest position possible.

    Like it or not, foreigners in Japan need to realize this is the risk they take when coming to Japan

  • Another point to make here:

    Russell was arrested Feb. 20, nine days after the “unknown American ESL teacher” had a “heart attack” in police custody.

    Let’s assume that the police officers who arrested Carrie already knew that an American was comatose from a police incident about a week earlier. Still, they tie her up and transport her to Nagoya (not to a cell in Tokyo). Why go all the way to Nagoya? There’s a shortage of vacant detention cells in Tokyo? Were they trying to take her off their hands, since they were perhaps under investigation for the previous incident?

    Did they bother to contact the US embassy?

    This story is increasingly fishy. It seems US ambassador Kennedy worked hard to secure Carrie’s release. It makes you wonder what she was doing behind the scenes about the American who died in police custody, and if these two people’s cases were somehow linked.

    Were police holding Carrie as a sort of “hostage” to ensure that US diplomats didn’t tell public about the real cause of the ESL teacher’s death?

    We can only speculate, because media in Japan have failed spectacularly on covering these incidents.

  • I called the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to ask whether we were allowed to video record the police. They answered that there was no law against it, though they said that police officers wouldn’t like it and they were very reluctant to sound as if they were giving permission to record police officers. I was routed to 4 different people within the police department, until I finally got someone who said that there was no law against it. The first 3 people couldn’t even give me a straight answer to this simple question. And even the 4th sounded ambiguous until I finally got him to say that there was no law against it.

    So get out your smart phones and start recording. It serves as evidence of any encounters you have with the police. Call the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department public relations at 03-3501-0110 and ask them yourself about video recording the police. You’ll probably get a vague answer, but in the end, there’s no law to stop you. Remember, they are public servants whose actions are open to public scrutiny. Record them.

  • the more I think about this, these two cases must be linked.

    US embassy staff surely knew that they had:

    A: an American woman detained in a jail in Nagoya

    B: an American male in a coma in a Tokyo hospital

    I can’t imagine US consular officers doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the case of the American male, while Ambassador Kennedy and various Democrats were working back channels to free the American female

    It smells like Tsukiji in here …

  • Has anyone here tried contacting the US embassy yet? If so, what kind of response did they get?

  • John Doe in Tokyo: One year after American man’s fatal encounter with Tokyo police, we still don’t even know his name

    On February 11, 2015, a 29 year-old American man, reportedly employed as an English teacher, was involved in an altercation with six Tokyo police officers in the Akasaka district of Minato Ward after police received a complaint about a foreign man “behaving violently”, although there is no mention of any bystanders being injured. This happened to be a national holiday, celebrating the founding of Japan. These Japanese press reports say the man went into cardiac arrest and then fell into a coma, but it is unclear if this happened during his arrest or some time later at the police station. At some point he was taken to a hospital, where he died on March 1, 2015.

    Jiji Press and the Japanese-language edition of the Wall Street Journal covered the story in Japanese, but, as far as I am aware, none of the major English-language media outlets appear to have covered the story, not even local outlets like the Japan Times, or international media organizations that cover Japan, even after they were contacted about the story. Only the Progressive News Service, Tokyo Weekender and Tokyo Reporter appear to have covered the story in English.

    A year later, we still don’t even know this man’s name. Both the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and U.S. Embassy in Tokyo refused to provide additional details at the time of the incident. A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted to the State Department in April of 2015, but the Progressive News Service has yet to receive any information about the incident. Both the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and U.S. Embassy in Tokyo were contacted for this follow-up story on February 27th, but neither has responded.

    It is more than a little disturbing that a man can die after an encounter with law enforcement personnel, and that the most basic details necessary for government transparency and public interest news coverage can be withheld from the public. It reminds one of states were citizens are “disappeared” by the security services. The State Department appears to be concealing information on risks to the safety of U.S. citizens in Japan in order to protect the image of a foreign government.

    Even more unexpected and worrying is the apparent complicity of the mainstream news media in helping cover up this incident.

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