Military officials have said Pvt. Danny Chen shot himself last year in Afghanistan after weeks of emotional and physical abuse that constituted hazing. (Army via the AP)
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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A platoon sergeant from Texas was sentenced Friday to three months in prison and a one-rank demotion in the hazing-related suicide of a 19-year-old Asian-American soldier in Afghanistan last year.
Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas Jr. of Port Arthur, Texas, was convicted of dereliction of duty — specifically, that he failed to ensure the well-being of his soldiers by monitoring corrective training. His rank was reduced to E-5. A military judge found him not guilty of three other charges in connection with the death of Pvt. Danny Chen of New York, The Fayetteville Observer reported Friday.
Authorities say Chen shot himself last October in a guard tower at a southern Afghanistan outpost after being hazed over his ethnicity.
Military prosecutors accused Dugan, Chen's platoon sergeant, of not doing anything to stop the harassment.
"He failed Danny Chen," said prosecutor Sasha Rutizer. "He failed everybody in his unit."
Prosecutors said it was Dugas' job to look after soldiers' morale and welfare, and that the Chinese American's maltreatment was rampant because of Dugas' poor leadership.
Dugas, 36, was found not guilty of making a false official statement and two other dereliction-of-duty charges. His attorneys argued he has already been punished enough.
Dugas receives credit for the 90 days he's been imprisoned, meaning he won't serve any more time behind bars for Chen's death.
The president of a New York organization advocating justice for Chen said the light sentence is extremely disappointing.
"As the senior enlisted officer, Sgt. Dugas was in a position of power to stop the abuse and didn't," said Elizabeth OuYang of OCA-NY. "There is no place in the Army for a staff sergeant ... who turns a blind eye to racial abuse and hazing by superiors."
Dugas pleaded guilty to violating a general order, for wrongfully possessing and consuming alcohol.
Dugas' civilian lawyer, Guy Womack, said the racial slurs Chen's fellow soldiers called him in Afghanistan — including fortune cookie and Jackie Chan — should have been considered "terms of endearment," the Fayetteville newspaper reported.
Womack said it wasn't Dugas' job to make the deployment "feel like a vacation."
"These are not people sitting in a library in Utah," he said in his closing arguments. "These are people at war."
Dugas was the third soldier to face court martial in Chen's death.
Spc. Ryan J. Offutt of Greenville, Pa., was sentenced to six months in prison, demotion to private and a bad conduct discharge following a plea agreement. Sgt. Adam Holcomb of Youngstown, Ohio, was sentenced to 30 days in prison and the loss of one rank.
All of the defendants were members of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.