FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Supporters of Pvt. Danny Chen, a 19-year-old NewYorker who committed suicide last year in Afghanistan, were encouraged Monday by the sentencing of one of the soldiers court-martialed in the case.
Specialist Ryan Offutt, 32, pleaded guilty to one count of hazing and two specifications of maltreatment and was sentenced to six months of confinement, a reduction in rank to private, and a bad-conduct discharge from the Army.
He is one of eight soldiers court-martialed for subjecting Chen to racial slurs and physical abuse for weeks before he took his own life in October. Chen’s family and other supporters have been attending the proceedings at Fort Bragg.
Offutt had also been charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, assault, violating regulations, and additional counts of maltreatment, but those charges were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
New York City Councilmember Margaret Chin commented, “This sentence is a victory for the Chen family and for all Americans. We cannot tolerate bullying and hazing in our military or in our society. Spc. Offutt used a multitude of racial slurs against Pvt. Chen, hurled rocks at him, and physically abused him.
“I am proud that the Army has taken a stand against hazing and handed down a bad-conduct discharge in this case. The removal of Spc. Offutt from the Army is necessary to make clear that the United States military will not tolerate racism, bigotry, and abuse at the hands of superior officers.
“The Chen family has fought for justice for their son, and for all of servicemen and women. This sentence ensures that Spc. Offutt will never again have the opportunity to harm or harass a fellow soldier. I hope this sentence sends a message to anyone who is suffering from bullying and hazing in the armed forces. Now is the time to speak out. This type of conduct is unacceptable and those who perpetrate this behavior must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Last month, Sgt. Adam Holcomb, 30, was found guilty of assault and maltreatment, but was acquitted of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, and hazing. Chen’s supporters were disappointed by the sentence — 30 days in prison, a reduction in rank, and a month’s pay.
To protest that decision, the New York chapter of OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), Asian American Arts Centre and other community organizations held a rally at Columbus Park in Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown on Aug. 11.
“The public and the military needs to see our determination for justice,” OCA-NY said in a statement. “Evidence demonstrating racial abuse cannot be minimized and hypothetically accounted for without making a travesty of justice. This is an issue that addresses everyone. all people need to see a reversal of this tradition of military practice that permits and excuses hazing of every color.”