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Army Charges Eight in Chinatown Soldier Danny Chen's Death

By Patrick Hedlund | December 21, 2011 7:32am | Updated on December 21, 2011 8:57am
Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of Manhattan, died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011
Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of Manhattan, died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011
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U.S. Military

MANHATTAN — Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in connection with the death of a Chinatown army private who the military says committed suicide while serving in Afghanistan, it was announced Wednesday.

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, who grew up in Chinatown and the East Village before he was deployed, was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head inside a guard tower in Kandahar Province on Oct. 3, army investigators said.

The eight soldiers were hit with charges ranging from negligent homicide and assault to making false statements in Chen’s death, which mobilized local politicians and advocacy organizations to press for a fully transparent investigation.

Military officials previously informed Chen’s parents that superior officers had beaten him prior to his death for failing to turn off the hot water at his base. Allegations of racial taunting were also reported.

Five of the soldiers allegedly involved — Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis and Spc. Ryan J. Offutt — face involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide charges, among others, according to the military.

In addition, First Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz is charged with eight counts of dereliction of duty, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas is charged with four counts of dereliction of duty and one count of making a false statement and Sgt. Travis F. Carden is charged with two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault, the military said. 

The military did not immediately offer further details regarding the charges or the status of the investigation. A military spokesman said he could not comment on specific evidence or findings that could jeopardize the judicial proceedings.

A separate army probe of any criminal activities regarding Chen's death is ongoing, the spokesman added.

Last week, advocates met with Pentagon officials in Washington to discuss the situation before holding a Manhattan march in Chen's honor attended by hundreds.

Officials from the New York chapter of the Organization for Chinese Americans, who met with military leaders last week, called the charges "an extremely important first step."

"A strong message must be sent that this type of banned misconduct will be punished and punished severely," said OCA-NY president Elizabeth OuYang.

"It is an outrage that Danny Chen, while we were fighting two wars, did not die from enemy fire but rather died at the hands of his fellow officers and superiors. An Asian American life, like any other life, is not cheap. Our lives are not dispensable."