NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The U.S. military has brought charges against eight soldiers serving in Afghanistan in connection with the death of Private Danny Chen.
Chen, who is from Chinatown, was found slumped in a guard tower in Afghanistan in October, the result of what Army officials originally said was “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.” He was just 19.
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But Army investigators now say there’s more to the story and announced military criminal charges Wednesday against eight other soldiers in connection with Chen’s death.
“The charges announced today in connection with the tragic death of Danny Chen, who grew up in the Chinatown district that I represent, are an important first step in ensuring that those responsible for this deplorable crime are brought to justice,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a statement.
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It was what Chen’s mother wanted to hear from the Army; what his father, other family, and friends had been fighting for since his mysterious death on Oct. 3.
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They wanted someone to be held accountable for his death, because, as CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman reports, they did not believe the first story: that he had killed himself. So, they marched and they used the most provocative tool available today: they put their story, “What Happened To Danny Chen,” on YouTube.
The growing grassroots campaign worked as on Wednesday the Army took action.
Guzman spoke to Chen’s mother, Su Zhen Chen, right after the charges were announced, and through a translator, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, she expressed her relief.
“They felt better when they heard these people were charged, but they really want the Army to do everything to prosecute and punish the people who mistreated and did this to Danny,” Chin said.
Asked about the death of Pvt. Chen and the Army investigation, and whether hazing in the Armed Forces is just a part of the culture, Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby said: “Any single case of hazing or inappropriate conduct to a fellow soldier, Airman, Marine, Sailor, Coast Guardsman is inappropriate and not acceptable. Zero is the right number.”
The Army charged 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz; Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas; Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel; Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb; Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst; Spc. Thomas P. Curtis; Spc. Ryan J. Offutt; and Sgt. Travis F. Carden with counts ranging from involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide to assault and making a false official statement. The Army is not saying at this time they killed Pvt. Chen. But the Army appears to be saying for now that their constant bullying may have driven Chen to taking his own life.
“For Danny Chen to have died in non-combat related injuries because of hazing by his superiors is unacceptable and it’s very disturbing,” said Elizabeth OuYang of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
A week after her son’s death, Chen’s mother told CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu through a translator her son had always dreamed of serving in the military. He wanted to serve and then join the NYPD. He enlisted in the Army early this year despite his family’s objections — Danny was their only son, and they were concerned about him.
Once serving abroad, things seemed to go horribly wrong.
Translator Frank Gee told Hsu the family was told Chen was “harassed and beaten” by fellow soldiers. Chen’s parents became concerned it might have been a racial issue.
“[Chen’s parents] asked the question, specifically, ‘Are you discriminated against because you’re Chinese or whatever.’ Danny said ‘I would rather not answer that question,'” Gee told Hsu on Oct. 11.
Chen’s parents said Danny never complained about any problems he was having in the Army.
“He wanted to save the country. He really loved the country,” said Danny’s aunt, Lucy Chen.
OuYang said fellow soldiers called Chen “Jackie Chen” and said he was dragged across the floor and had stones thrown at him, among other things.
“We will be monitoring these courts-martial until their justice is served,” OuYang said at Wednesday’s news conference.
Chen’s father also spoke about the charges.
“We realize that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope,” Chen’s father, Yen Tao Chen, said through a translator.
“We need to know the whole truth,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez. “Racial discrimination and intolerance have no place in today’s military.”
The eight soldiers are still in Afghanistan but were sent to different base after being removed from their posts.
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