"Local Bystander Takes a Bullet in the Face for his Curiosity"

March 21, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

Nett, Kolonia - "Bang, Bang! You're dead!" Those are words I used as a child when I played what we called "Cops and Robbers" with my brother and our friends. I always used my finger as the gun and it was never loaded. The recipient of my "shot" always fell down and acted mortally wounded with the high drama for which kids are famous. It nearly happened for real in Pohnpei when 18 year old Sean Yamada took a bullet fragment to the face at 2:00 in the morning, Saturday, March 10 at Club Flamingo, owned by Marvin Yamaguchi.

Patrons of the club were leaving the bar when a fight broke out over a baseball game scheduled for the following Sunday between undefeated Dolonier and Parem; not an unusual scenario either inside or outside of the bar. What was unusual was that off duty detective and recently appointed judge in Nett, Iakopus John who is from Parem, according to witnesses, pulled a 9mm Beretta handgun from his car and began firing with the weapon tilted 90 degrees to the left-just like in modern gangster movies. The first two shots apparently hit nothing of consequence but the third one ricocheted and hit Yamada in the right cheek bone, an inch from his eye.

Sean Yamada standing in the spot where he was shot Ryan Kuor, who goes by the nickname "Ryda", said that he saw John walking down the street with the Beretta. Ryda, who writes and has recorded some tough talking gangster rap lyrics in Pohnpei that include talk about "9's" (a rap reference to a 9 millimeter handgun like the one John was using), said that he backed away to what he thought was a safe distance in the parking lot. He was with Yamada at Flamingo. Both young men said that though they have been in the bar before they didn't enter it that night but "hung around outside, drinking with friends."

Yamada was a bit closer to the fist fight and the resulting gunfire which was occurring in the street. He was on Flamingo's driveway approximately 75 feet from the activity. According to Yamada he felt like he was a bit too close and started to join his friends when he suddenly had "hot metal in his face," one inch below his right eye.

Ryda said he saw Yamada holding his face and realized what had happened. He grabbed Sean and put him into the car they had taken to the bar. Wescott Musrasrik the driver, and another friend with Yamada and Ryda that night, drove past the melee at the end of the driveway and on to Pohnpei State Hospital where Yamada was ultimately admitted. No surgeon was on duty and the surgeon on call could not be contacted. The bullet fragment in his face was not removed until after noon on Saturday. The bullet fragment was passed to the police department after it was extracted.

Sergeant Steve Solomon, that night's shift supervisor was one of police officers who responded to the shooting. He said that while he and other officers were trying to disarm John, the Beretta went off. Solomon said he was nearly shot in the leg during the altercation and was burned by the barrel of the gun. He was holding it when it went off. A few days later he showed me the hole in the concrete caused by the impact of the bullet that nearly got him. He also showed me the burns on his hands.

He said that 11 bullets were left in the clip. The clip for a Beretta holds fifteen bullets, which corresponds with the number of shots eyewitnesses said were fired that night. Despite the altercation and the multiple discharges of the firearm, Iakopus got away. Solomon said, "We didn't have enough police officers to control the crowd…He was a detective." Solomon responded affirmatively when asked if he felt that John was drunk.

Shortly after he eluded police, John, along with the two companions, his brothers in law that had been involved in the fight at the bar showed up at the hospital where Yamada was being treated. According to Jesse Suldan who had arrived along with Rickstein Olter to check on Yamada's condition said that John was there to fight and threatened members of the Dolonier baseball team outside the hospital while Yamada, Ryda, and Wescott were inside at the time trying to get Yamada's injuries attended to. Olter heard Iakopus threaten to shoot the members of the opposing team and that he would kill them at the Baseball field on Sunday.

Ryda, who was inside the hospital said that when he came outside "it was just war. Yeah, there were a lot of people." Suldan was one of the casualties of that war. He sustained head injuries from a blow to the head by a tire iron witnesses say, that was deliberately thrown at him by one of John's companions.

He said that the end of the tire iron made for pulling hubcaps off actually stuck in his head. He was treated for his injuries at the Hospital and released. He said that the hospital gave him nothing that night and he returned on Monday due to "big pain."

Once again, police who had arrived at the Hospital let John go. He was arrested by State Police at his home at approximately 4:00 in the morning. No other arrests were made.

Ricky Carl of the State Attorney General's office is the prosecutor dealing with the case. On Saturday when John's bail hearing occurred at the State Supreme Court, he said that he could only file the charges that had been given him by the State Police. He suggested a bail of $1000 which was denied. The court ruled that John would be released on his own recognizance and he must surrender all property belonging to the state including any hand guns. State Police enforced that order. The charges at that time only involved possession of a handgun and discharge of a firearm.

State Police officers who filed the arrest report didn't include any mention of a victim. All of those officers currently are subjects of an internal investigation. Since police did not mention Yamada's injuries in their own report he filed his own charges after he was released from the hospital on Saturday evening. Suldan didn't file charges until the following Monday after he was treated again at the Hospital. On Friday, March 16 the prosecutor handling the case had still not received the reports from the police department but said that additional arrests would likely be made after the charges were filed at the Attorney General's office. Chief Joe Roby said that the police department is in the process of gathering more evidence and that charges will be filed soon.

On Monday morning Iakopus John was suspended from the Pohnpei State Police pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident.

In a media communiqué Chief Roby said, "The police officer concerned has been arrested and charges laid. This investigation may result [in] further charges against the officer and a criminal prosecution being launched. Therefore it is inappropriate to discuss specific points which may jeopardize any subsequent court hearing." He further said, "I have taken this step of issuing this press statement to confirm to the public the Pohnpei Police is committed to being open and accountable organization and to reassure everyone that this matter will be fully and properly investigated."

He said that the investigation is receiving top priority and that hand gun regulations are being revised significantly.