Suicide of Danny Chen

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Danny Chen
Danny Chen 2011.jpg
Born (1992-05-26)May 26, 1992
Manhattan, New York, United States
Died October 3, 2011(2011-10-03) (aged 19)
Kandahar province, Afghanistan
Cause of death Suicide
Nationality United States
Other names Chén Yǔhuī (陳宇暉)
Alma mater Pace University High School
Occupation United States Army
Parent(s) Suzhen Chen (mother)
Yan Tao Chen (father)

Danny Chen (simplified Chinese: 陈宇晖; traditional Chinese: 陳宇暉[1]; pinyin: Chén Yǔhuī; May 26, 1992 – October 3, 2011) was an American U.S. Army soldier who served in Afghanistan in the early 21st century whose death resulted in a military investigation and charges against eight US soldiers, ultimately with four being court martialed.

The investigation found that Chen had been racially harassed and beaten by his fellow soldiers before his death on October 3, 2011.[2]

Early life[edit]

Chen was born and raised in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York City, New York by parents who had immigrated from China.[3] His father works as a chef and his mother as a seamstress.[3][4] His parents came from Taishan, a coastal city in Guangdong province, China.[5]

Chen attended P.S. 130 M and graduated from Pace University High School in Manhattan in 2010. He received a full scholarship offer to Baruch College in Manhattan. But he had other ambitions, and joined the army in January 2011. He planned after his military service to return to New York City to serve with the New York City Police Department.[5] His mother was unhappy about his choice, as she thought since he was a good student he could build a professional career. His father supported him. Asian Americans have a low rate of participation in the United States military and as a consequence, have little representation in the higher ranks.[6]

Career[edit]

After completing basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in April 2011, Pvt. Chen was assigned to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which is based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.[2] In August, he was deployed with his unit to Kandahar province in Afghanistan.[7] They were stationed at Combat Outpost Palace, a forward operating post.

Death at base[edit]

Chen was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his living quarters at the base in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.[2][8]

"Three days after his death, a military official told Ms. Chen and her husband, Yan Tao Chen, that investigators had not yet determined whether the shot to the head was self-inflicted or fired by someone else.

But the official also revealed, the Chens said, that Private Chen had been subjected to physical abuse and ethnic slurs by superiors, who one night dragged him out of bed and across the floor when he failed to turn off a water heater after showering." The military did not provide much information to the parents while they were conducting their investigation.[6]

But military investigators found that Chen was the target in Afghanistan of ethnic slurs and endured physical attacks at the hands of his fellow soldiers before his death.[7][9] Chen was found to have been physically and verbally abused by his superiors, who appeared to single him out for being Chinese-American. This abuse occurred on a daily basis for six weeks before his death.[5][10][6] As the only American soldier with Chinese ancestry in the unit, he was singled out, endured taunts including racial slurs such as "gook", "chink", "Jackie Chan", "Soy Sauce" and "dragon lady;"[11] assigned excessive guard duty to the point of exhaustion, made to do push-ups while holding water in his mouth, and put in a “simulated sitting position” and kicked by other soldiers using their knees, among other abuses.[12]

He was allegedly pelted with stones by fellow soldiers and forced to crawl across gravel shortly before his death.[13] On September 27, 2011, a sergeant dragged Chen out of bed and over 15 metres (49 ft) of gravel, leaving visible bruises and cuts on Chen's back. Although the incident was reported to Chen's platoon sergeant and squad leader, it was not reported to superior officers.[12] On October 3, 2011, the day he died, other soldiers forced him to crawl on gravel for over 100 metres (330 ft) while carrying equipment, as his comrades threw rocks at him.[14]

Burial[edit]

Chen received a military funeral at a cemetery in Valhalla, New York, on October 13, 2011.[15]

Investigation and legal consequences[edit]

On December 21, 2011, the US Army charged eight soldiers with various crimes relating to Chen's death:

  • 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz
  • Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas
  • Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel
  • Sgt. Travis F. Carden
  • Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb
  • Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst
  • Spc. Thomas P. Curtis
  • Spc. Ryan J. Offutt

All the defendants belonged to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. They faced various charges, including assault, dereliction of duty, involuntary manslaughter, maltreatment, making false statements, negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment.[16][17]

Following a series of Article 32 hearings on March 5, 2012, investigators dropped the most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. Four of the eight soldiers were recommended for court-martial on the remaining charges, such as negligent homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Subsequent trials were held at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.[18][19]

Daniel Schwartz[edit]

Daniel Schwartz of Maryland, a 2009 graduate of West Point, was Chen's platoon leader and a First Lieutenant. Following a pretrial hearing at Kandahar Air Field, he was recommended for court-martial on February 12, 2012.[20] He faced eight counts of dereliction of duty, including failure to promote "a climate in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of race" and "to prevent his subordinates from maltreating and engaging in racially abusive language." Furthermore, he stood "accused of failing to report two soldiers for consuming alcohol in violation of military rules and failing to report one of those soldiers for 'recklessly' detonating a hand grenade near their base."[21][22]

Schwartz reached a plea deal with prosecutors in December 2012, after they consulted with Chen's parents about the issues. Schwartz did not face trial, and the charges against him were dropped. But he was dismissed from the Army, following a nonpublic Article 15 proceeding. Specifics regarding his punishment were not disclosed.[22][23]

Courts-Martial[edit]

Adam Holcomb[edit]

In July 2012, the court-martial started of 30-year-old Sgt. Adam Michael Holcomb of Youngstown, Ohio, among the four charged in Chen's death. He faced charges including negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, assault, maltreatment of a subordinate, dereliction of duty, and violating a lawful general regulation, which combined carried a maximum prison sentence of up to 17 years and 9 months. He pleaded not guilty. The trial was conducted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.[24][25]

Private Degan Berhe testified that Chen had discussed suicide because of being harassed by Holcomb. “He told me to my face, sir, that he wanted to commit suicide because he was mistreated.”[26]

Holcomb was acquitted of being a cause of Chen's death and most of the other charges, but was convicted of assault. He was sentenced to thirty days in jail, demoted by one rank, and fined $1100 in forfeited pay for this offense.[27] Members of the community, including Asian Americans and civil rights activists, were outraged by this light sentence.

Ryan Offutt[edit]

In August 2012, it was reported that Spc. Ryan J. Offutt pleaded guilty to one count of hazing and two specifications of maltreatment. Offutt made a plea deal, resulting in charges of negligent homicide and reckless endangerment being dropped. Offutt had called Chen "chink," "gook," "fortune cookie," "squint eye", and "egg roll." He had kicked Chen and thrown rocks at him. He was sentenced to six months in prison.[28][29] On appeal, the military court of appeals dismissed the six-month sentence and approved punishment only of reducing him in rank to E-1 and discharging him with a Bad Conduct Discharge. [30]

Travis Carden[edit]

In October 2012, it was reported that Spc. Travis Carden was demoted to private and received a "bad conduct discharge", after pleading guilty to charges which included attempting to impede an investigation, striking and pushing another soldier, and negligently discharging a pistol in a government van during the altercation. Carden had previously been found guilty of ordering Chen to perform demeaning physical tasks, and calling him racially disparaging names. He was sentenced to ten months in prison.[31][32]

A portion of Manhattan's Elizabeth Street has been designated also as Pvt. Danny Chen Way.

Andrew J. VanBockel[edit]

In Afghanistan, VanBockel was Chen's squad leader at Combat Outpost Palace. In November 2012, a military jury convicted Staff Sgt. VanBockel of hazing, dereliction of duty and maltreatment of a subordinate. He was demoted two ranks, reprimanded and forced to perform 60 days of hard labor, of which 45 days were credited due to pre-trial confinement. [33]

Aftermath[edit]

Private Chen’s death followed the suicide the same year, in April 2011 in Afghanistan, of Lance Corporal Harry Lew of the United States Marines. He also shot himself.

The military has been criticized for other deaths of young men associated with hazing, and has conducted courts-martial of fellow military men, including non-coms and officers, who have been seen as permitting or encouraging abusive hazing, against the military's official policies. After the trials associated with Chen's death, the Army said it was working "to re-examine its policies against hazing and, officials said, double its efforts to eradicate the practice from its ranks."[22]

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), an aunt of Lew, introduced a bill, "Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act", which was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017.

An American Soldier, an opera based on Chen's suicide and the subsequent courts-martial was premiered at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2014. A revised expanded version had its world premiere in 2018 at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis festival.[34][35]

Honors[edit]

A stretch of Elizabeth Street in Chinatown, Manhattan is now also designated as Private Danny Chen Way. It was dedicated on Memorial Day in 2014.[36][37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 陳宇暉出殯 數百人送行 . World Journal (in Chinese). 13 October 2011. Archived from the original on 9 February 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Gardiner, Sean (12 October 2011). "Army Probes Events Behind Soldier Death". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Semple, Kirk (21 December 2011). "8 Charged in Death of Fellow Soldier, U.S. Army Says". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Leitsinger, Miranda (6 January 2012). "Army reveals 'sensitive' material to family of dead Chinese-American soldier". MSNBC. Archived from the original on 9 January 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Gonnerman, Jennifer (2012-01-06). "Pvt. Danny Chen, 1992–2011". New York Magazine. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Semple, Kirk (30 October 2011). "Soldier's Death Raises Suspicions in Chinatown". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Leitsinger, Miranda (21 December 2011). "8 US soldiers charged in death of fellow GI". MSNBC. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "Danny Chen". New York Times. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "8 US soldiers charged in comrade's death". Associated Press. 21 December 2011. Archived from the original on 9 January 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  10. ^ Beekman, Daniel; Braden Goyette; Corky Siemaszko (21 December 2011). "8 soldiers charged in death of Pvt. Danny Chen in Afghanistan". New York Daily News. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  11. ^ Stjepan Mestrovic (2015). Postemotional Bully. Sage. 
  12. ^ a b "Shocking Details Of Private Danny Chen Case Revealed". Bowery Boogie. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Fractenberg, Ben (5 January 2012). "Army Pvt. Danny Chen Pelted with Rocks Just Before Death, Advocates Say". DNAinfo. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  14. ^ Riechmann, Deb (6 March 2012). "Afghan Suicide: U.S. Troops May Go on Trial". Time. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  15. ^ Cuza, Bobby (October 11, 2011). "Parents of Manhattan Solider {sic} Killed Overseas Question Son's Treatment". NY1 News. Archived from the original on August 24, 2012. Retrieved August 29, 2013. 
  16. ^ "8 Soldiers Charged in Death of Fellow Serviceman". CNN. December 21, 2011. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  17. ^ Londoño, Ernesto; Davenport, Christian (December 21, 2011). "8 US Soldiers Charged in Death of Comrade in Afghanistan". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  18. ^ Shapiro, Julie (March 6, 2012). "Accused Soldiers in Danny Chen's Death Will Not Face Manslaughter Charges". DNAinfo. Archived from the original on April 10, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  19. ^ Semple, Kirk (April 11, 2012). "Any Trial in Soldier's Death Would Be at Fort Bragg". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Military Investigators Recommended Courts-Martial for 2 Charged in Pvt. Danny Chen's Death". CBS New York. February 16, 2012. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  21. ^ "8 Soldiers Charged in Death of Fellow Serviceman". CNN. December 21, 2011. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  22. ^ a b c Semple, Kirk (December 17, 2012). "Army Officer Reaches Deal in the Suicide of a Private". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  23. ^ "US Army Soldier Faces Discharge After Asian-American Soldier's Hazing". The New York Times. December 17, 2012. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Court martial begins in death of Chinese-American solider {sic}". USAToday. Associated Press. 23 July 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
  25. ^ "Trial to start in alleged hazing, death of Asian-American soldier". Reuters. 23 July 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
  26. ^ {{cite news|title=Soldier Talked of Suicide Over Hazing, Friend Says|author=Kirk Semple|date=26 July 2012| url=https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/nyregion/pvt-danny-chen-talked-of-suicide-over-hazing-friend-testifies.html?action=click&contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article%7Cwork=The New York Times|accessdate=30 May 2018
  27. ^ "US military (News),US news,World news". The Guardian. London. 31 July 2012. 
  28. ^ Semple, Kirk (Aug 14, 2012). "Danny Chen". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  29. ^ Beekman, Daniel (August 13, 2012). "Second soldier to go on trial in Pvt. Danny Chen?case pleads guilty?". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  30. ^ https://www.jagcnet.army.mil/Portals/Files/ACCAOther.nsf/SD/9A3C04D4E233CC1885257D7E006DD210/$FILE/sd-offutt,%20rj.pdf
  31. ^ Beekman, Daniel (October 12, 2012). "2nd soldier pleads guilty in Chen hazing case". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  32. ^ "Soldier discharged after pleading guilty in hazing". Wall Street Journal. Oct 11, 2012. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  33. ^ Brooks, Drew. "Staff Sgt. Andrew VanBockel receives reprimand, reduction in rank in Danny Chen suicide case". Fayetteville Observer. 
  34. ^ Cooper, Michael (1 June 2018). "A Soldier Died After Racist Hazing. Now His Story Is an Opera". New York Times. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  35. ^ Midgette, Anne (15 June 2014). "WNO's 'An American Soldier' by Huang Ruo performs its mission honorably". Washington Post. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  36. ^ "'Private Danny Chen Way' named in honor of Chinatown soldier driven to suicide from hazing". NY Daily News. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  37. ^ "Private Danny Chen Way is dedicated in Chinatown". The Villager Newspaper. Retrieved 10 September 2014.