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Hearings under way in soldier from NYC's suicide

January 16, 2012 5:48:25 AM PST
Hearings are under way for the U.S. soldiers charged in connection with the death of a serviceman from Chinatown.

The first hearing started Sunday for one of eight the Army soldiers accused of the abuse that led 19-year-old Danny Chen to commit suicide.

The hearings are being held at a military base in Afghanistan and will determine if the soldiers face court-martials.

Spc. Ryan J. Offutt is charged with offenses including maltreatment, assault, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in Chen's death.

Chen shot himself in a guardhouse Oct. 3 in Afghanistan after what investigators say were weeks of racial slurs, humiliation and physical abuse.

Offutt, 32, of Greenville, Pa., was charged in December along with seven others in the same unit. He joined the Army in 2006 and served 14 months in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan. An attorney for Offutt could not immediately be contacted.

Chen, a native New Yorker of Chinese descent, had only been in Afghanistan for two months when he killed himself.

He had told relatives he endured weeks of racial teasing and name calling while in training in the U.S.

After arriving in Afghanistan, investigators said, Chen was subjected to hazing by members of his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Chen's family has said investigators told them that at a remote base in southern Afghanistan, he was subjected to racial slurs and forced to do excessive sit-ups, push-ups, runs and sprints carrying sandbags.

On the day of his death, he had reported to the guard tower without his helmet or adequate water and was forced to crawl about 100 yards (100 meters) across gravel carrying his equipment as his comrades threw rocks at him, a family representative has quoted investigators as saying.

The two most serious charges, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, carry prison sentences of up to 10 years and three years, respectively.

Chen's family and Chinese community members in New York have called for legal proceedings related to his death to be held in the United States, so they could witness them.

Offutt's mother, Carol Tate of Sharon, Pa., told The (Sharon) Herald last month that she has spoken to her son and thought there were other factors that have not been made public, but she declined further comment.

The Army has identified the other soldiers charged as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, 25, of Maryland (no hometown was given); Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, 35, of Port Arthur, Texas; Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, 26, of Aberdeen, S.D.; Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, 29, of Youngstown, Ohio; Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, 26, of Brooklyn, Iowa; Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, 25, of Hendersonville, Tenn; and Sgt. Travis F. Carden, 24, of Fowler, Ind.

VanBockel, Holcomb, Hurst, Curtis and Offutt were charged with the most serious offenses, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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