Anger at Latest Verdict in Danny Chen Bullying Trials

Pvt. Danny Chen's family and relatives, including father Yan Tao Chen and mother Su Zhen Chen, led a march and vigil through Chinatown last Thursday night, which saw a turnout of hundreds. (Photo by Serena Solomon/DNAinfo)

The “light sentence” of Staff Sgt. Blaine Dugas, the third soldier convicted in the hazing-related suicide of the Chinatown local Pvt. Danny Chen, has upset community advocates, reports DNAinfo‘s Serena Solomon. The reaction is nothing new.

Danny Chen

In the third of eight trials, a superior solider in Chen’s platoon, Staff Sgt. Blaine Dugas, was found guilty of one count of dereliction of duty for creating an environment where the racially charged bullying of Chen occurred.

The superior officer was sentenced to a reduction in rank and to serve three months in military prison during the trial at the Ft. Bragg military base in North Carolina. He is being credited with time served, accounting for the entirety of his sentence, military officials said.

Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, which helped get the case into the national media spotlight, said, “We are extremely disappointed by the judge’s light sentence. As the senior enlisted officer, Sergeant Dugas was in a position of power to stop the abuse and didn’t.” She continued, “His failure to ensure the physical well being of Private Chen cost Danny his life.”

OuYang hoped Dugas would also face a dishonorable discharge from the Army, which happened to the previous soldier on trial, Ryan Offutt.

Spc. Offutt agreed to a plea deal last Monday, pleading guilty to “maltreatment and failure to adhere to an anti-hazing order, according to an Army official.”

Offutt, 32, was sentenced Monday to six months in prison and will receive a bad conduct discharge.

He faced a maximum sentence of four years in military prison, said Thomas McCollum, the public affairs officer at the Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

By agreeing to the plea deal, Offutt avoided the most serious charge of negligent homicide, as well as reckless endangerment charges.

Three weeks ago, the first soldier in the Danny Chen to be put on trial, Sgt. Adam Holcomb, was sentenced to 30 days in military jail and will be allowed to stay in the military, much to the ire of Chen supporters.

OurChinatown‘s Audrey Tse notes the differences in the Offutt and Holcomb proceedings, with Offutt describing “his actions toward Chen as ‘wrong,’ ‘cruel’ and ‘abusive,’ a stark difference from Sgt. Holcomb’s testimony.” Another distinction comes in the community reaction to the sentences.

Many of those grieving Pvt. Danny Chen’s self-inflicted death have found comfort in Specialist Offutt’s sentence. A closer look at the Offutt’s testimony becomes more harrowing; The Fayetteville Observer reports that Offutt apologized for his role in Chen’s death. He said he knew what he was doing to Chen was wrong. He said he mistreated the 19-year-old because he saw others — people whom he looked up to and respected — doing the same. Offutt said he also suffered from a traumatic brain injury. This case just confirms the notion that nothing is just black and white.


  1. hyacinth M. Graham says:

    Every person’s dignity must be protected. There is some thing missing in the person who finds entertainment in being cruel to another human being. This kind of torture and teasing is tolerated in this society preventing the learning of the proper inhibitions that comes with respecting others. Lives are at stake The outcome can be life threatening. So children need to be taught empathy not hate. It must be taught. We must recognize the symptoms in the perpetrator early and introduce proper interventions before it is too late.

  2. I don’t understand why Chen’s case does not draw as wide an awareness as it should, nor pick up on the momentum of violence scare after the many shooting incidents happened this year – Violence should be stopped. The Chinese community can do more for his sorrowful parents to seek justice for their only son, who was “tortured” to death. Not only we have to express disgust towards violence and hazing. but maltreatment from superiors like this kind are absolutely unacceptable by all standards. I am very disappointed at the lenient sentencing in this case as it pretty much speaks of those in the higher hierarchy have taken a lighter attitude towards racial hazing. (That is scary!) Captain Hernon has pointed out that Chen “would at times show up for guard duty without his helmet, water or night-vision goggles”. He has misattributed them as signs of incompetence. But, these are in fact signs of lack of concentration which are very common symptoms among patients with severe depression. In a sense, the Captain’s evidence has revealed the enormous psychological damages Chen had suffered at the time, probably due to desperate fears, not from the Afghanistani enemy, but from the violent claws of his 8 superiors. Imagine a 19-year-old son who is beaten up by his alcoholic violent father day in day out, how do you expect him to function on a daily basis? But, we are talking about remote Afghanistan which is much worse, Chen had 8 violent abusive fathers there, who never failed to team up to play new tricks of torture on him when the sun rose. When your thoughts are all on fears of how these 8 superiors will torture you in the new day, do you expect any normal person to remember his daily duties? The army should have sent him back much earlier. He is obviously desperate to find a way out, hence “BANG! BANG!” Put yourself in his shoes and imagine what that deep dark night was like. As for the Captain’s allegation that Chen slept during duty, I wonder if that is valid? Since 2006 there is caffeine gums for troops which “enhance all sorts of performance and alertness tasks” according to Dr. Tom Balkin, a sleep researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. All parents of soldiers should demand despatch of ethnic soldiers in “pairs” or more in order to reduce the temptation of violence and to ensure the safety of low ranking ethnic soldiers. Dying for a country is very different than dying in the hands of your own predatorial superiors.

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