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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | A staff sergeant for the U.S. Army has been sentenced to just 15 additional days of hard labor, and a rank reduction for bullying Chinatown-based soldier Danny Chen prior to his suicide in October 2011.
Sergeant Andrew Van Bockel is the seventh of eight soldiers who have been tried and sentenced in the Chen case, marking the near completion of four months of trials tied to the apparent suicide of the19-year-old U.S. Army private during his deployment last year in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Van Bockel was convicted of hazing, dereliction of duty and maltreatment on Wed., Nov. 20 following a court-martial at the army’s Fort Bragg, North Carolina military base. The sergeant was sentenced to a reduction in military rank and 60 days of hard labor. However, Van Bockel only has 15 days of work to complete, since he already performed labor for 45 days upon initial charges prior to the trial, according to military officials.
Elizabeth OuYang, president of Chinatown-based activist group Organization of Chinese-Americans’ New York chapter, said Van Bockel is a “disgrace” to the army, and deserved harsher punishment. She has been attending the Fort Bragg trials with Chen’s parents, Su Zhen and Yan Tao Chen, and a handful of others.
Reportedly, Van Bockel testified that he ordered Chen to crawl over 100 meters of rocks and watched other soldiers lob stones at him. The sergeant also mockingly called Chen names such as “Dragon Lady” and Fortune Cookie” and ordered the soldier to give his English-speaking platoon instructions in Chinese.
“He not only fostered a climate of unrelenting and escalating hazing that ultimately cost Danny his life, he instigated the hazing,” said OuYang.
Council Member Margaret Chin said, “Van Bockel was the leader, and his racist and violent behavior set the standard for his platoon.”
The sentence followed the Nov. 9 conviction of Sergeant Jeffrey Hurst, who was found guilty of dereliction of duty for overlooking the maltreatment of Chen by two of Hurst’s subordinates. He was sentenced to 45 days of hard labor and a reduction in military rank. Like Van Bockel, Hurst will not serve time in jail.
“His light sentence is no deterrent to turning a blind eye to unlawful conduct,” said OuYang.
Three of the seven soldiers already tried in connection with Chen’s death have been sentenced to jail time, while only two of the seven soldiers have been discharged from the army for poor conduct.
OuYang said, “The public is watching this case closely to see if those in power who not only knew about the hazing but ordered it will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”