(Note language in paragraph four)
By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - The leader of a platoon whose members were accused of hazing an Asian-American soldier who killed himself in Afghanistan has been punished and will be discharged from the U.S. Army, officials said on Monday.
First Lieutenant Daniel Schwartz was the highest ranking of eight soldiers charged in connection with 19-year-old Private Danny Chen’s suicide and the last to have his case resolved.
Chen, the only Chinese-American in his unit, fatally shot himself in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan in October 2011 after enduring weeks of disparaging taunts and physical mistreatment from his superiors, military prosecutors said.
Members of the platoon were accused of calling him racially derogatory names such as “gook,” “slants” and “egg roll.” Prosecutors said they threw rocks at him, dragged him across gravel and tied sandbags to his arms at the remote combat outpost where Chen began his first deployment in August 2011.
His death prompted activists to call for more protections against abuse for Asian-American service members, who make up 4 percent of the active-duty U.S. military.
Schwartz, who faced dereliction of duty charges, was punished through an Article 15 administrative proceeding that was not open to the public, officials at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, said on Monday.
Details of his punishment were not released. As part of the disposition, the charges against him were withdrawn, officials said.
He will leave the Army, though a decision has not yet been made about whether his discharge will be honorable or dishonorable, said Fort Bragg spokesman Ben Abel.
Other soldiers accused in the case received an array of punishments after being found guilty earlier this year on charges such as maltreatment, assault, hazing and dereliction of duty.
Sentences included reduced ranks, forfeited pay, hard labor and short jail sentences. Only one soldier was discharged for bad conduct, a point of frustration for Chen’s parents and supporters.
“At a very minimum, all eight should be discharged,” 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.
Danny Chen was the only child of Chinese immigrants who live in New York City.
“The most jail time received was six months,” OuYang said. “This is a situation where you have someone who died. These slap-on-the-wrist punishments do not equate at all with the value of Danny Chen’s life.” (Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)