U.S. soldier pleads guilty to hazing Chinese-American serviceman

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:46pm EDT

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WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - A U.S. Army infantryman accused in the suicide of a Chinese-American soldier in Afghanistan was sentenced to six months in prison and discharged from the military for misconduct after pleading guilty on Monday to maltreatment and violating an order against hazing.

Specialist Ryan J. Offutt, one of eight soldiers charged in connection with 19-year-old Private Danny Chen's death, was accused of mistreating Chen by calling him racially disparaging names, throwing rocks and water bottles at him, kicking him and dragging him.

Chen, the only Chinese-American in his unit, killed himself with a gunshot in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan in October 2011 after being subjected to weeks of such abuse, military prosecutors said.

At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Monday, Offutt admitted to charges of hazing and maltreatment and said his actions were cruel and unnecessary, according to base spokesman Thomas McCollum.

As part of a plea bargain, the government dropped more serious charges of reckless endangerment and negligent homicide, McCollum said.

Offutt, who faced up to four years in a military prison as part of his guilty plea, was sentenced by a military judge to six months of confinement, reduction in rank to private and a discharge from the Army for bad conduct.

"The judge's sentence recognized there is no place in the Army for a convicted soldier, especially a superior, who has been convicted of racial maltreatment and hazing," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, which has been advocating on behalf of Chen and his family.

Last month, a military jury acquitted Sergeant Adam Holcomb, another member of the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, of negligent homicide in connection with Chen's death but convicted him on other charges. Holcomb was sentenced to 30 days in a military jail and had his rank reduced to specialist.

Six more soldiers, all Chen's superiors, are scheduled to be tried by courts martial in the case in coming months.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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