Civil Rights Groups Angered by Acquittal, Sentence in Chen Case

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A jury on Monday acquitted Sgt. Adam Holcomb — one of eight soldiers charged in the hazing and death of Pvt. Danny Chen — of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat and violations of a military statute that prohibits hazing.

Based on the jury’s recommendation, Holcomb, who was convicted of two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault consummated by battery, received on Tuesday a sentence of 30 days in prison, reduction of one rank (to specialist), and a fine of $1,181.55.

Danny Chen and his mother, Su Zhen Chen.

The prosecution charged that racial harassment and physical abuse led Chen, a 19-year-old from New York, to take his own life last year while serving in Afghanistan. The defense portrayed Chen as an incompetent soldier who had family issues and was ultimately responsible for his own death.

Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Tom Hayashi, executive director of OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), and Elizabeth OuYang, OCA-NY president, issued the following statement:

“The verdict and sentencing recommendation in this case fly in the face of civil and human rights. It is absolutely appalling that following a campaign of humiliation due to anti-Asian bias by Sgt. Holcomb and others that led to Pvt. Chen’s death last October, the jury would not only acquit Sgt. Holcomb of these serious charges, but recommend such a lenient sentence for his actions against Pvt. Chen.

“And it is quite disturbing that despite his conviction for maltreatment and assault, Sgt. Holcomb will be able to continue to serve honorably in the military, an honor he does not deserve.

“Today’s verdict is reminiscent of the Vincent Chin case more than 30 years ago, in which his killers served no jail time and merely received a fine for taking Chin’s life. There was no justice for Chin and today there was no justice for Pvt. Chen, Lance Cpl. Harry Lew or the many other victims of military hazing.

“The slap on the wrist for Sgt. Holcomb clearly demonstrates that these types of actions are acceptable in the military culture. As long as there is no clear definition of hazing that is punishable under military regulations, there will be future miscarriages of justice for victims like Pvt. Chen.

“As a nation, we must come together and demand that Congress and all branches of the military adopt stronger policies to deter and address all forms of hazing, harassment and abuse in our military. There must be a zero-tolerance policy.

“AAJC and OCA remain committed to working to address the following:

“• A clear definition of hazing that is punishable under military regulations.

“• Stronger accountability up and down the chain of command.

“• Stiffer punishment for failure to report harassment and abuse.

“• Protections for victims and whistle blowers of harassment and abuse.

“• Mandatory diversity training and inclusion practices to promote more diversity within leadership positions.

“• A comprehensive record-keeping system on reports of harassment and abuse.

“Six more trials and one more sentencing remain. We fully expect appropriate punishment that reflects that Pvt. Chen’s life was not in vain. We will continue to fight for justice and work to ensure protection for our military members.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte), whose nephew, Harry Lew, died under similar circumstances, commented, “This is disgusting. Army Sgt. Adam Holcomb just got a 30-day sentence for hazing Pvt. Danny Chen so mercilessly with ethnic slurs and beatings that he took his own life. The similarities between my nephew Harry’s hazing case and Danny’s are shocking. Our soldiers and their families deserve better.”

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