LOUD & CLEAR: Hazing, Racial Taunts, Acceptable Army “Training” Tools; Jury Acquits NCO in Chen Suicide

A 10-member Army jury acquitted Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, 30, of negligent homicide, hazing and several other charges at a court-martial July 30 at Fort Bragg, N.C. Witnesses said Holcomb, a father of three from Youngstown, Ohio, repeatedly abused Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, physically and mentally because Chen was a weak soldier prone to mistakes; but that such treatment is commonly practiced by leaders as “corrective training” to make substandard soldiers better. Chen shot himself to death Oct. 3 inside a guard tower at a remote combat outpost in Afghanistan after he was hazed by senior soldiers who called him “gook” and “chink” and made him crawl while pelting him with stones, military prosecutors said. (NY Daily News)

Sergeant Acquitted of Driving a Suicide

by Kirk Semple

New York Times, July 30, 2012

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A military jury on Monday acquitted a sergeant on the most serious charges in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinese-American from Manhattan who killed himself last year while deployed in Afghanistan, but found him guilty on lesser charges.

The jury determined that the sergeant, Adam M. Holcomb, was not guilty of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat and hazing.

Sergeant Holcomb was convicted on two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault consummated by battery.

Prosecutors had sought to convince the jury that Sergeant Holcomb’s treatment of Private Chen, which the prosecutors said included hazing and racial taunts, led directly to his suicide.

The 10-member jury of Army officers and enlisted soldiers reached its verdict after about two hours of deliberations on Monday afternoon.

Pvt. Danny Chen


The court-martial began last Tuesday.

Sergeant Holcomb was one of eight soldiers charged in the case and the first to be tried.

After the verdict was announced, the court-martial moved into the sentencing phase. The jury heard arguments from both sides and was expected to begin sentencing deliberations on Tuesday. He faces up to two years in prison, officials said.

In testimony during the sentencing hearing, Sergeant Holcomb apologized and said he was suffering from symptoms that resembled post-traumatic stress disorder after three deployments to war zones.

Read the rest of this story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/31/nyregion/army-jury-acquits-sergeant-of-driving-pvt-danny-chen-to-suicide-in-afghanistan.html

Military Appeals Court Senior Judge Says 2010 Suicide Attempt by Depressed Marine in Okinawa was Criminal Act

While serving overseas at a remote Marine Corps post on Okinawa, Japan, Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell, 25, was diagnosed by a military psychologist with a personality disorder, PTSD and depression. He was prescribed three psychiatric medications including Zoloft, a powerful antidepressant linked to suicidal behavior in young adults. Caldwell’s depression followed the deaths of several family members and a Marine buddy at home in the states. He became further distraught after being convicted of felony-level offenses by his Marine commander for possessing “Spice” and a crime related to an offbase petty-theft incident involving his girlfriend. Caldwell cuts his wrists in desperation after being told he was to be jailed for his ‘crimes’. His commander added on to his offenses by charging him with a “self injury” crime. (AP)


Inside the Mind of Military Review Court Senior Judge Lewis Booker; Ruled 2010 Suicide Attempt of Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell in Okinawa Was a Crime

by Senior Judge Lewis T. Booker

Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, Nov. 15, 2012

Self-Injury

The appellant was alone in his barracks room, located in Camp Schwab, Okinawa, when he intentionally cut open his wrists with a razor blade, leaving a trail of blood on the barracks floor.

The appellant was in a highly distraught state at the time of the self-injury. Moments later Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) C, one of the staff noncommissioned officers in the appellant’s unit, entered the room and discovered the appellant in his injured state.

GySgt C administered first aid by wrapping socks around the appellant’s wounds and then called for the assistance of corpsmen who resided in the barracks, who responded with their medical kits.

After the appellant received acute care for his self-inflicted injuries, he was kept for a day in the base hospital’s psychiatric ward for observation before being placed into pretrial confinement.

The undeveloped facts in this guilty plea indicate the self-injury was a genuine suicide attempt which was precipitated by the appellant receiving two pieces of bad news:

1) the death of a close friend who had just returned home after being discharged, and

2) his commanding officer was ordering him back into pretrial confinement.

These two events constituted what the appellant considered the “last straw” in a recent series of emotional hardships which ranged from the deaths of several family members to a variety of personal problems the appellant was having in the unit.

… By cutting himself, the appellant caused a disorder in the barracks. He needlessly exposed GySgt C to his bodily fluids and he caused corpsmen to respond with their medical kits, presumably expending medical supplies in the process.

… Conceivably, many instances of malingering or self injury could be concealed in the guise of a sincere suicide attempt.

… My own personal experience over the past 25 years of active duty service leads me to believe that self-injury, whether it results in an intentional suicide or not, has the potential to cause tremendous prejudice to the good order and discipline within a unit — Lewis T. Booker, Senior Judge, NMCCA

Another matter which may have been a contributing factor leading to the appellant’s actions was the fact that the appellant had been treated for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an unspecified personality disorder.

Part of his treatment included a prescription of a number of medications, including “Zoloft.”

According to the appellant, the medications might have been the cause for seizures and brain hemorrhages which caused the appellant to stop taking his medication approximately two weeks before the self-injury.

Notwithstanding these issues, the appellant disavowed any severe mental disease or defect at the time of his offense.

Likewise, the appellant’s defense counsel, who represented the appellant on other legal assistance and military justice matters, was convinced that an inquiry into the appellant’s mental responsibility or capacity was not warranted under Rule For Courts-Martial 706, Manual For Courts-Martial, United States.

The assigned error in regard to the self-injury specification sought relief under the theory that prosecution of a genuine suicide attempt ought to be prohibited under public policy reasons.

The lead opinion does not address the assigned error; instead, it sets aside the conviction because it finds a substantial basis in fact to question the plea. I very respectfully disagree with the lead opinion’s resolution of the issue and decide the assigned error against the appellant.

The appellant pled guilty under both a clause 1 and clause 2 theory of culpability, i.e., that his self-injury was:

1) an act prejudicial to good order and discipline (clause 1) and

2) conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces (clause 2).

I am satisfied the appellant provided a factual and legal basis that his self-injury was prejudicial to the good order and discipline and was therefore provident to his plea under clause 1 at a minimum.

There is no dispute that the appellant intentionally cut both of his wrists with a razor blade. Furthermore, the record amply satisfies the requirement that the appellant’s act was prejudicial to good order and discipline.

By cutting himself, the appellant caused a disorder in the barracks. He needlessly exposed GySgt C to his bodily fluids and he caused corpsmen to respond with their medical kits, presumably expending medical supplies in the process.

Furthermore, the appellant did not go into pretrial confinement as ordered by his commanding officer; instead he was transported to the hospital where he received treatment in the psychiatric ward for 24 hours.

The appellant himself stated that the impact of his actions on his fellow Marines was palpable by the way they acted around him after he returned to the unit.

Accordingly I find no substantial basis in law or fact to question the appellant’s plea.

As to the public policy argument, I’m not persuaded that criminal prosecution of genuine suicide attempts should be prohibited under military law.

As both parties note in their briefs, self-injury has long been a chargeable offense in military jurisprudence.

Conceivably, many instances of malingering or self injury could be concealed in the guise of a sincere suicide attempt.

My own personal experience over the past 25 years of active duty service leads me to believe that self-injury, whether it results in an intentional suicide or not, has the potential to cause tremendous prejudice to the good order and discipline within a unit.

If a convening authority feels it necessary to resort to court-martial to address this type of a leadership challenge, he or she should be allowed to do so, at least until the executive or legislative branches of government have proscribed this approach by law or regulation.

Read the entire three-member opinion of the court:

http://www.jag.navy.mil/courts/documents/archive/2011/201000557.pdf

Accused Sergeant in Hazing-Suicide Case of Manhattan Soldier Danny Chen Faces Fort Bragg Court-Martial July 24

Hundreds attended funeral services for Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of New York, on Oct. 13, 2011. Chen was found dead in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan on Oct. 3. Army investigators say Chen, a new soldier who had been in the Army just seven months, shot himself after senior soldiers in his platoon repeatedly abused him physically and mentally as combat-zone punishment. Eight soldiers, including an officer have been charged in Chen’s death; five accused of the most serious charges — involuntary manslaughter to negligent homicide. (Reuters)


Courts-martial to Begin Next Week at Fort Bragg in Death of Pvt. Danny Chen

by Drew Brooks

Fayetteville Observer, July 17, 2012

The first of eight courts-martial related to a soldier’s suicide in Afghanistan last year is scheduled to begin next week on Fort Bragg.

Sgt. Adam Holcomb is charged in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, a 19-year-old soldier from New York.

Pvt. Danny Chen


Holcomb’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. July 24, according to Fort Bragg. The case is expected to last through July 27.

Holcomb is charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, assault, two counts of maltreatment of a subordinate, dereliction of duty and four counts of violating a lawful general regulation.

Chen died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, according to officials.

He allegedly suffered racial taunts and physical abuse at the hands of soldiers in his company and eventually shot himself in a guard tower at Combat Outpost Palace near Kandahar.

Holcomb is one of eight soldiers in Chen’s unit who have been charged.

Read the rest of this story:

http://www.fayobserver.com/articles/2012/07/16/1191031?sac=fo.military