I was interrogated by the police for two hours on Thursday of last week. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but what interrogation is? It started with a phone call during my smoke break at work.
“Is this Young Chun?”
I said it was. He said he was so-and-so from some place. I’m not protecting his identity. My Korean listening comprehension is terrible over the phone. For a short moment, I thought it was this guy who calls me up every once in a while to do interview work for the college because no one else really calls me.
“You know why I’m calling, don’t you?”
Over the course of our phone conversation, he repeatedly asked this question or a slightly modified, “Why else would I be calling you?” Of course, I had no idea why he was calling.
Unable to elicit a satisfactory answer, he then asked if I had used some credit card at Burger King in the past month. After I asked for clarification on what kind of credit card he was referring to multiple times, he came out with it.
“Don’t play dumb with me. You know exactly why I’m calling. You tried to use someone else’s credit card and Burger King, and when it didn’t go through, you used your own Shinhan card to pay. I’ve got a warrant.”
Warrant? Woah, woah. This obviously wasn’t the guy from school.
“What are you talking about? I don’t even remember the last time I went to Burger King. I haven’t been there in a while.”
“Yeah, it was a while ago. Three weeks, to be exact.”
“Look, I’ve never used anyone else’s credit card. I’ve never even touched, let alone used, anyone else’s credit card.”
“Why else would I be calling you?”
“That’s what I want to know.”
The guy on the other end of the phone huffed incredulously in the fashion of older Korean men. He started down the same line of questioning, and I repeated my answers over and over. We were getting nowhere, and I needed to get back to teaching class. I agreed to go down to the police station at 1, and he said he would text me the address.
I went back into class confused. The word “warrant” was stuck in my head. Rather than starting class right away, I asked my students what they thought.
“It’s a scam. You can just ignore it,” came the consensus.
It didn’t seem like a scam. The detective knew my name, asked me to come down to the police station, and did not ask for any of my personal details. After class, I looked up the phone number on the internet, and it matched the number of Violent Crimes department at the police station. I texted him back and asked on which day I had supposedly used this credit card. He replied that there were two days—March 13th and 16th.
I went home right away and checked the journal I keep on my computer because, yes, I am a 40-year-old man who keeps a journal. It turned out I did go to Burger King on one of the days in question. As I could recall, I was slightly hung over and was on my way to McDonald’s when I saw a sign in the window advertising Whoppers for 3,000 won. But on the other day, I had only used my debit card at McDonald’s. I go to McDonald’s often, sometimes almost everyday. My diet is horrible. I took screenshots of my spending on those days and ate lunch as quickly as I could before heading out.
The police station was far on the western outskirts of Seoul. The ride wasn’t bad because it was almost a straight shot, and the roads out that way are major throughways with wide shoulders. I got there early so I took some time to smoke a couple of cigarettes before heading into the station.
The stairway to the second floor was blocked off by a plexi-glass barrier and keypad so I texted the detective to let him know that I was waiting on the first floor. The detective came down shortly and told me to follow him.
The detective took me upstairs to the Violent Crimes department and led me to an interrogation room. In the center of the room was a plain desk, upon which sat a monitor and printer, with three folding chairs around it, two on one side and one on the other. The detective told me to take a seat and left the room. It definitely wasn’t a scam.
Sitting in the room, I was nervous. Not because I did anything wrong but because I’m the type of person who gives off the impression of being guilty even when completely innocent. I’m not comfortable with being the center of attention and can get defensive and emotional when in an argument.
The detective returned carrying a thick file folder. He dropped the file on the desk with a thud, took a seat across from me, and leaned in. He pulled out the warrant and showed me the judge’s signature at the bottom.
“You know why you’re here, don’t you?”
“I only know what you told me.”
“You used someone else’s credit card at Burger King.”
“No, I didn’t. I’ve never used any card other than my own.”
“You can drop the act. We have evidence, security camera footage from Burger King. It clearly shows you using the card at the time of the crime.”
“Yes, I went to Burger King, but I used my own card.”
“Yeah, you used your card after you tried using the stolen card and it was declined.”
“No, I’ve never even touched anyone else’s credit card.”
“Is this you in the picture?”
It was me, and I said it was. I cooperated. I had no reason to lie. It was my Chicago Bears hat, even the same sweatshirt and leather jacket I happened to be wearing at the moment.
“Then it was you that tried to use the stolen card. No one else used that terminal at that time. We checked the tapes.”
“There was no one in front of me?” I wanted to think that maybe the person in front of me who tried to use the card.
“No, you were the only person who used the terminal around that time. And the bank confirmed that your purchase went through on your card right after the declined transaction for the same amount at that terminal. How can you explain that?”
It didn’t make any sense. They had evidence on me for a crime that I didn’t commit. I wanted to suggest that maybe there was something wrong with the machine, but the detective said that they checked the machines and they were working properly.
“I can’t. I don’t know what happened. But I didn’t use any card but my own.”
Sometime during this line of questioning, another detective walked into the room. He didn’t take a seat. He stood off to my right, crossing his arms. But whereas the first detective, Cop 1, was aggressive in his accusations, this new detective, Cop 2, didn’t say much and had an enigmatic look on his face, eyebrows knit as if he was confused or concerned. Cop 2 started asking me questions about my family and living arrangement.
“How long have you been in Korea?” “Do you live alone?” “Where do your parents live?” ”Where do your brothers live?”
The manner in which Cop 2 asked the questions was very relaxed, as if he was a friend of a friend and we were having a conversation over a beer. It was the cliché good cop-bad cop routine.
“Do you have a limp?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I was in a motorcycle accident.”
“When was that?”
“Maybe three or four years ago.”
“And your injured leg is your left leg?”
“Yes, it is.”
Cop 1 jumped back in. He opened up the file and showed me a different picture.
“Is this you in the picture?”
It wasn’t. The person in the picture was wearing a cream-colored fisherman’s cap and a cream-colored puffer jacket. He was carrying an ugly, cheap backpack, black with neon purple trim.
“Nope, that’s not me.”
“That’s not you?”
“That looks nothing like me. That guy looks much older than me.”
Admittedly, the video quality was poor, but in my opinion, the blurry face didn’t bear a resemblance.
“C’mon. That’s you. The person used the credit card at the same Burger King and has the same limp. The left leg.”
“That person limped in the same way as me?”
“Exactly the same way.”
It was hard to believe. Although he was an asshole, the surgeon did a good job on my leg, and my limp is not very pronounced. But something about the way they lined up the pieces of my tibia, my left foot slants out to the left and swings out slightly in that direction when I walk. Nobody has ever told me that they noticed my limp. I would not have known myself but the parking tower in my previous residence had a mirror at ground level to help people park and I walked past it all the time.
What were the odds that the actual perpetrator went to the same location around the same time as one of the few times I went in recent months, had the exact same limp, and used the stolen credit card that the terminal had somehow registered me as using? It was a perfect storm. I felt like Richard Kimble and the one-armed man rolled into one.
I had been angry on my way to the station because I felt that they were wasting my time for no reason. But now I could see that they had very good reason to take me as a suspect.
Last came a higher up and the harmony of the good cop-bad cop routine got muddled and resulted in a silent cop-bad cop-worse cop situation, but the new detective brought nothing new to the table. It was tiring having to give the same answers over and over again as I had already been doing it for the past thirty minutes to an hour.
Yes, that’s me in the picture. Yes, I have a limp. Yes, it’s my left leg. No, I didn’t do it. No, I can’t explain how the machine says I used someone else’s card.
There was some new information—for example, they showed me the time stamp of the blocked transaction and how it matched the time stamps on the security camera footage—but everything was an attempt to entrap me.
“You used that stolen card, a red one, and when it didn’t work, you used your debit card,” Cop 1 shot at me.
“I’ve never even seen a red credit card.”
“How did you know it was red?” he asked with an accusing glare.
I sighed. “You just told me.”
Cop 2 didn’t say anything. He just stood there with his arms crossed and observed me. He didn’t have to say anything because Cop 1 and Cop 3 were peppering me with a barrage of questions ad nauseum.
Tired of hearing the same questions, I tried different ways to prove my innocence. For example, they seemed to be focusing on getting me to confess that I was the other cripple, the guy in the cream-colored hat. I asked when the card was used on the 13th—10 pm—and compared it with my debit card purchases on the same day. I had gone to McDonald’s several hours earlier to prep for class and do some writing—I’ve been going to McDonald’s for the past month or two because coffee is cheap and seating is ample—and I bought a Big Mac Value Meal at 9 pm to eat at home.
“Why would I buy a meal at McDonald’s and then an hour later go to Burger King and order another meal?”
“This is not about McDonald’s. This is about Burger King,” Cop 3 argued.
Cop 3 did not want to listen to anything I said unless it was a confession. Why would I get a full meal at McDonald’s and pay with my own debit card, take the meal home and eat it, then go back out to Burger King and buy another meal with a stolen card? That didn’t make sense.
After another thirty minutes to an hour, Cop 1 and Cop 3 changed their tactics.
“Most people would just admit their wrongdoing and get this over with.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You know, if you just admit that you did it, the court will take it much easier on you. Anyway, the amount was not much so the punishment won’t be so serious. But if you continue to be uncooperative, it’s going to be much worse for you.”
“I understand that, but I didn’t do anything wrong. There’s nothing for me to admit.”
Whenever I replied in that way, either Cop 1 or Cop 3 sighed, in turn or in unison.
“This is frustrating for us, you know.”
I sighed. “It’s frustrating for me as well.”
After over an hour and a half of questioning, the three detectives suddenly left me alone in the room. I shuffled through my photos and records on my phone, seeing if there was anything else that I missed. They were taking longer than I expected. Having nothing else to do, I decided to try to take a nap. I suddenly realized I was very, very tired. They whole time they were interrogating me, they didn’t even have the decency to offer me a cup of coffee. I wanted to smoke, but I was sure that asking for a smoke break was out of the question. I folded my arms and rested my chin on my chest.
After about ten minutes, Cop 1 returned and he was alone. His demeanor seemed different, softer, but I wasn’t sure that it wasn’t another trick. He revealed certain things, things that they had told me earlier in the interrogation that were untrue, things they told me to put pressure on me. For example, the blocked purchase on the day I went to Burger King did not match the purchase on my card. The blocked purchase was for 36,000 won. Who the hell buys 36,000 won worth of Burger King for himself?
He told me that he was beginning to believe that I didn’t do it, but again, I didn’t completely trust him. He asked for verification on a number of the same questions and then took my statement. He printed it out and had me read it over, then sign and fingerprint each page.
“Do you smoke?”
I told him I did. He offered to take me to the smoking area. I wanted to go home as quickly as possible, but I also really wanted to smoke.
He told me to grab my things because we were done and took me downstairs and out into the parking lot. He lit up his cigarette and I lit up mine. The driver of a passing car mistook the detective for a parking lot attendant and asked if the parking garage could be used for visitors. I chuckled to myself.
“Hey, I’m sorry about my tone earlier. It’s just my job,” he said. It caught me off guard. He started telling me how tough the job is and how lots of people mistake him for a scam artist when he tries to contact them. I wondered how common it was for scam artists to pretend they were the police.
“Like I said before, I’m beginning to think you didn’t do it, but there are just too many coincidences. How can explain them?”
I asked him in return, “Do you believe in luck?”
* * *
I went home and asked my landlord if I could check the security tapes for the building. The detective had said that if I could obtain footage of me returning home and not coming back out before the crime was committed, that would do a lot to exonerate me as a suspect. Unfortunately, my landlord is an old man, and he didn’t know how to work the computer. I figured it out, but the first problem was that the date and time stamp on the recordings was off by about five weeks, six hours, and ten minutes. I figured I could find some other way to prove the timing if I could just find the footage (such as the time of the sunset or the opening time of the bar on the first floor) but then it turned out that only ten days of footage was saved on the computer.
I went out and asked the cell phone store next door and then the Paris Baguette at the entrance of the alleyway for their security camera footage. The manager of the Paris Baguette was uncooperative but told me that if the detective called the store directly, they would provide the footage so I passed along the information to the detective.
I haven’t heard anything from the detective since so I assume things are okay, but I’m still keeping my eyes open for the cripple in the cream-colored hat. I’m also steering clear of that particular Burger King.m