Former CID agent reviews investigation of Army Pvt. Danny Chen's death

FAYETTEVILLE. N.C — The court-martial of Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst in the suicide last year of Army Pvt. Danny Chen continued Tuesday morning, starting with testimony from an Army criminal investigator.

Hurst is accused of violating a lawful regulation, dereliction of his duties and maltreatment of a person subject to his orders.

Prosecutors say Hurst hazed and mistreated Chen and allowed soldiers under his command to haze him. They say Chen was driven to suicide by racially charged harassment from his comrades and supervisors.

Chen shot himself to death in a guard tower while on duty in October 2011. He was with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

After Chen killed himself, Lee Mish, then a senior investigator for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, went to the remote base to find out what happened. He said such investigations are standard for non-combat deaths in the Afghan war zone.

Mish, who has since left the Army, said that in interviews with about 30 platoon members, investigators learned that some thought Chen had been mistreated.

One, Spc. Nicholas Sepeda, gave him a photo of injuries to Chen's back. These were sustained when Sgt. Adam Holcomb dragged Chen across some rocks after Chen accidentally broke the outpost's only hot water heater.

That changed the investigation, Mish said.

"That definitely led us down a path that wasn't anticipated."

The Sepeda photos and autopsy photos of Chen's back and thighs showed he was a victim of assault.

Mish said he interviewed Hurst and obtained two written statements from him. Hurst said he saw the injuries and thought they were inappropriate, but did not report them, Mish testified.

Hurst said that Chen told him it was OK to call him "Dragon Lady" and "Soy Sauce."

Prosecutors allege that Chen was the butt of nicknames that disparaged his Chinese heritage. The defense contends that outrageous-sounding nicknames were common and an accepted means of relieving stress in the Spartan outpost in dangerous territory.

Hurst is the sixth of eight defendants to go to court in Chen's suicide. They are being prosecuted at Fort Bragg because their unit was under the command of Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division while they were in Afghanistan. Five soldiers already have been punished for their maltreatment or hazing of Chen, while two others are awaiting trial this month.

woolvertonp@fayobserver.com
 

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