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Third soldier in Pvt. Chen case to face court-martial on Thursday

Pvt. Danny Chen's platoon sergeant will stand trial this week on charges he failed to prevent the mistreatment and abuse that officials said led to Chen's suicide in Afghanistan last year.

Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas Jr., 36, of Port Arthur, Texas, is the third soldier to be court-martialed in Chen's death. His trial is scheduled to begin Thursday at Fort Bragg.

One of his lawyers, Guy Womack of Houston, said Dugas had no knowledge of the hazing and mistreatment that Army officials say caused Chen's suicide.

"Staff Sgt. Dugas is an outstanding soldier and an outstanding leader," he said. "If he had learned about it, he would have stopped it."

Womack, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who has served as a military judge and federal prosecutor, called the Chen case "tragic" but said the blame was being unfairly shifted to the soldiers in Chen's unit.

He said Dugas has been bothered by the attention the case has received, and he said he expects the court-martial to make clear that Dugas played no role in Chen's death.

Womack said Dugas has deployed multiple times and described his client as a "very compassionate leader."

Two soldiers already have been tried in the case.

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Sgt. Adam Holcomb and Spc. Ryan Offutt were convicted of hazing and mistreating Chen.

Holcomb was sentenced to 30 days in prison, the loss of one rank and the forfeiture of more than $1,100 after a seven-day trial. Offutt was sentenced to six months in prison, demotion to private and a bad conduct discharge following a plea agreement.

Both soldiers avoided convictions on the most serious charge levied against the eight Fort Wainwright, Alaska, soldiers charged in Chen's death: negligent homicide.

Dugas does not face that charge, but he is accused of violating a lawful general regulation, making a false official statement and three specifications of dereliction of duty.

He is accused of failing "to foster a climate in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of race," according to court documents.

Officials said it was Dugas' duty as platoon sergeant to prevent his subordinates from maltreating and engaging in racially abusive language and conduct toward Chen.

He's also accused of giving a false statement to investigators and wrongfully possessing and consuming alcohol.

Fort Bragg officials said Dugas is expected to plead guilty to possessing and consuming alcohol when the trial begins. Dugas' trial is expected to last two days.

Chen, 19, shot himself in a guard tower at a small outpost in Afghanistan on Oct. 3.

Officials said he took his life following weeks of abuse related to his Chinese-American heritage, but defense lawyers at the previous courts-martial have contended that Chen's troubles centered on his poor military performance and family problems.

They presented evidence that the Chen family had disowned their son, which the Chen family has repeatedly denied.

Chen's death has brought attention to hazing and racism within the military, and the trials have been heavily attended by Asian-American activists who traveled from New York alongside the Chen family.

The first trial also attracted heavy media coverage from national and international outlets.

All of the soldiers charged in Chen's death were members of 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division and were based out of Fort Wainwright.

All of the trials will be held at Fort Bragg because their commander in Afghanistan was a Fort Bragg general.

Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com or 486-3567.

 

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