Ex-police officer acquitted over Japan stampede in 2001

A former police officer indicted over a stampede that killed 11 people at a festival in Japan in 2001 was acquitted again Wednesday.

Kazuaki Sakaki, 67, was deputy chief of the Akashi police station at the time of the stampede on a bridge thronged with people who were there to watch a night of fireworks in western Akashi city.

In addition to the 11 deaths, 247 people were injured.

Five people, including a police officer who was in charge of security at the site, were convicted over the stampede, while prosecutors initially concluded Sakaki should not be indicted.

But a panel of citizen judicial reviewers overturned the decision by prosecutors, arguing Sakaki failed to foresee the accident and take appropriate preventive measures.

The Kobe District Court dismissed the case, which was then sent to the Osaka High Court.

Masaaki Yoneyama, presiding judge at the high court, said the initial ruling was reasonable.

The tragedy occurred on a bridge linking a train station to a nearby beach where Akashi city held its summer festival.

The crush happened on July 21, 2001 when the bridge was teeming with about 3,000 people, far beyond its maximum capacity of 1,800.

The Kobe District Court ruled that the prefecture police, municipal government and the security firm assigned for crowd control could have prevented the stampede.