Army prosecutors will be in a tough spot pursuing charges of negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter against five soldiers in connection with the death of an Asian-American GI whose family and advocates say was the victim of racial taunting, bullying and hazing, according to military law experts.
Eight soldiers, including an officer, were charged Wednesday in connection with Danny Chen’s death, and five were accused of the most serious charges — involuntary manslaughter to negligent homicide. They “relate to conduct that occurred in the time leading up to his death,” Dave Connolly, chief public affairs officer for Regional Command South in Afghanistan, wrote in an email, declining to provide further detail.
Chen, the son of immigrants from southern China, was not depressed but had suffered emotional and physical abuse in the military: He was dragged from his bed and made to crawl while rocks were thrown at his back and was forced to hold liquid in his mouth while doing chin-ups during his two months in Afghanistan, according to accounts from his family, who said they got the information from Army investigators. He also endured racial taunting, including having his last name said in a goat-like voice and other soldiers calling him Jackie Chan, while undergoing training in Georgia, according to letters he wrote to his family and diary entries, said Elizabeth OuYang, New York branch president of OCA, a national civil rights organization serving Asian Pacific Americans.
At the time of his death, Chen had been in the military for seven months; he had deployed to Afghanistan in August.
The negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter charges in cases of hazing leading to suicide in the U.S. military appear to be a first, said Grover Baxley, a former member of the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and Hank Nuwer, who has done decades of research on hazing in schools and the military.
Prosecutors still must present their evidence at an “Article 32” hearing – the equivalent of a grand jury in civilian law – after which an investigating officer will determine whether to sustain the charges.
Negligent homicide is defined in military law as “the killing of another person through simple negligence,” Baxley said. The US Legal website defines involuntary manslaughter as “manslaughter without any malice or intention,” it said.
Under the negligent homicide charge, the government must show that Chen’s death not only resulted from a negligent act by the soldiers but was the “proximate cause” of it, said Baxley, who now has a private practice, JAG Defense.