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Army Pvt. Danny Chen Pelted with Rocks Just Before Death, Advocates Say

By Ben Fractenberg | January 5, 2012 5:53pm
OCA-NY president Elizabeth OuYang (at center), flanked by the parents of Army Pvt. Danny Chen, at a press conference in Chinatown on Thurs., Jan. 5, 2012.
OCA-NY president Elizabeth OuYang (at center), flanked by the parents of Army Pvt. Danny Chen, at a press conference in Chinatown on Thurs., Jan. 5, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

CHINATOWN — Just before he was found shot to death in an Afghanistan guard tower, tormented Chinatown Army Pvt. Danny Chen, was pelted with rocks and forced to crawl across gravel by his fellow soldiers who were looking to punish him — the latest in a months-long pattern of abuse, advocates said Thursday. 

The development came as the advocates claimed that Chen's supervisors were aware of one previous case of abuse against the 19-year-old and chose not to document it.

Chen’s parents and representatives from the advocacy group OCA-NY said military officials told them Wednesday that the pattern of abuse against him reached an apparent breaking point on the day of his death, Oct. 3, when he was punished for not coming to his shift in the guard tower equipped with the proper gear.

The Chinatown-born soldier, who had been subjected to racial slurs and physical abuse since deploying to Afghanistan in August 2011, was forced by superiors to crawl over gravel while being pelted with rocks shortly before he was discovered dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in a guard tower, said OCA-NY president Elizabeth OuYang, who was present at the meeting with parents and military representatives Gen. Thomas Bostick and Col. Thomas Weikert.

The abuse began after Chen forgot to bring his helmet and enough water for his shift, military officials told Chen’s parents and advocates. He was ordered to crawl 100 meters over gravel while other soldiers threw rocks at him, they said.

A gunshot was heard shortly thereafter, and Chen was found at 11:15 a.m. laying with a rifle next to him inside the guard tower, OuYang said.

"Investigators said [Chen's fellow soldiers] perceived Danny not to be trained enough and subjected him to doing these exercises," OuYang said. "It quickly crossed over to abuse in excess."

The abuse was the culmination of months of humiliation, including a Sept. 27 incident in which Chen was pulled out of his bed by a sergeant and dragged over 15 meters of gravel to the shower, resulting in cuts and bruises to his back, OuYang said.

Military investigators found evidence that Chen reported the Sept. 27 attack to his first lieutenant and staff sergeant and the supervisors chose not to document it, she said.

Chen also was kneed in the legs by fellow soldiers and subjected to excessive work detail and guard duty, advocates said.

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

OuYang said she decided to come forward with the new information Thursday because the officers' court martial process was due to begin Friday in Afghanistan.

Chen, 19, who grew up in Chinatown and the East Village, began suffering the alleged abuse prior to his deployment to Afghanistan in August 2011, OuYang said.

The alleged mistreatment included Chen being subjected to an excessive amount of exercise, having to do pushups with mouthfuls of water, and being called “chink," "gook" and "dragon lady” by fellow soldiers over the course of his deployment, advocates explained.

Military officials said the eight charged will be tried in Afghanistan, where they are currently being held under increased supervision pending trial, but advocates called Thursday for the trial to take place in the U.S.

A probe by the military's criminal investigations unit is ongoing.

“You would think that after all [that happened] this month, the pain would subside,” Chen’s grieving mother, Su Zhen Chen, said Thursday. “I feel more pain every time I am reminded of this event.”