8 Charged in Death of Fellow Soldier, U.S. Army Says

Reply Wed 21 Dec, 2011 10:34 am
December 21, 2011
8 Charged in Death of Fellow Soldier, U.S. Army Says
By KIRK SEMPLE - New York Times

Eight American soldiers were charged with manslaughter and an array of other crimes in connection with the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, a fellow soldier from New York whose body was found in October lying in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan, the United States Army said in a statement Wednesday.

Private Chen, 19, who was born and raised in Lower Manhattan, died of “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound" at a combat outpost in Kandahar Province, the Army said. Further details about the circumstances of his death were not immediately available, though family members said they had been told by military officials that Private Chen had been subjected to hazing while deployed in Afghanistan.

The charges included involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault, dereliction of duty, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, maltreatment and making a false official statement, the Army said.

The type of crimes the soldiers are accused of committing seems to suggest that investigators believe the soldiers’ actions led Private Chen to commit suicide, not that they directly killed him.

“As the legal process continues, further information will be published as it becomes available,” the statement said.

The accused soldiers were all members of the Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, First Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Five of them, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Specialist Thomas P. Curtis and Specialist Ryan J. Offutt, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and assault consummated by battery, among other crimes, the statement said.

Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, the only officer among the eight defendants, was charged with dereliction of duty, the statement said.

Sgt. Travis F. Carden was charged with assault and maltreatment, and Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement, the statement said.

News of the charges was applauded by Private Chen’s relatives and friends, and by advocates for the Chinese-American community who have been pressing the military to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the death and to improve the treatment of Asians in the military.

The soldiers “must be prosecuted,” said Elizabeth R. OuYang, president of the New York chapter of OCA, a civil rights group that has been working with the family. “No plea bargaining,” she said. “There must be a strong message sent that this type of unlawful misconduct cannot be tolerated.”

Ms. OuYang added, “They have to create an atmosphere in which Asian-Americans feel safe.”

Until Wednesday, the Army had said little about its investigation into Private Chen’s death. In early October, a military official told his parents, Chinese immigrants who speak no English, that investigators had not yet determined whether the gunshot had been self-inflicted or fired by someone else.

But officials also revealed that Private Chen had been subjected to physical abuse and ethnic slurs by others in his unit. They said he had been dragged out of bed and across the floor when he failed to turn off a water heater after showering.

In the vacuum of information, suspicion had flourished among relatives, friends and advocates that the military was planning to whitewash the death. But military officials had maintained that they were conducting a thorough investigation and that the integrity of the inquiry depended on the tight control of information.
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