RALEIGH, N.C. — A sergeant accused of hazing a private because of his Chinese heritage will go on trial this week on charges the abuse led to the soldier’s suicide.
Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, shot himself to death in a guardhouse Oct. 3. He was called names while in training, then was subjected to hazing after he was deployed to Afghanistan, his family has said. On the day of Chen’s death, he was forced to crawl about 100 yards across gravel carrying his equipment while his fellow soldiers threw rocks at him, the family said.
Sgt. Adam Holcomb of Youngstown, Ohio, is the first of eight soldiers charged in Chen’s death to go on trial. He faces a negligent homicide charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years, and a host of other charges. If convicted of all of them, he could face up to about 18 years in prison.
Four other men face the negligent homicide charge, the most severe in this case, and the judge’s decision in Holcomb’s trial could be an indicator for the other soldiers.
Chen was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, but was under the command of a Fort Bragg general in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. James Huggins requested the trial be transferred to Fort Bragg — which military officials said worked out better logistically. Chen’s family had also lobbied for the trials to be held stateside.
Chen was born to Chinese immigrants on the lower east side of Manhattan where he was raised. He enlisted after high school and had only been in Afghanistan for two months before he died. Chen told his family, and wrote in his journal, about the abuse.
Chen’s family recently celebrated what would have been his 20th birthday, which fell on the Memorial Day weekend. It has been an emotional roller coaster for the family, said Elizabeth OuYang, a Chinese community activist who has served as a spokeswoman for Chen’s parents, who don’t speak English.
“The family does not want their son’s memory to be forgotten... and hope that his death will lead not only to justice, but necessary reform in the military so that no other soldier’s life is lost,” OuYang said.
Holcomb’s trial, OuYang said, has broader implications.
“This first trial is critical,” she said. “Not only to deliver justice for private Danny Chen, but it also speaks to the militaries’ ability to police its own.”
OuYang said Chen’s family will fly to North Carolina for the trial.
Fort Bragg officials are bracing for an influx of attendees. The trial has attracted a large interest from foreign media, and Army officials are planning to accommodate Chinese reporters and television crews.
“We have important relations with China, and they’re all watching to see how the United States treats Asian-Americans,” OuYang said.
Military prosecutors declined to comment on the trial and Holcomb’s military defense attorneys were on route from Afghanistan and could not be reached.
The trials for the other soldiers will last at least until October.