• DEA forced to pay Daniel Chong $4.1M after locking him up and then forgetting about him
By John Friend
Early last week, lawyers representing a San Diego college student who was abandoned without food or water for over four days in a holding cell announced a $4.1 million settlement with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Daniel Chong, an economics student at University California – San Diego, was detained along with eight others in April 2012 while attending a party at a friend’s apartment in the San Diego area. DEA agents, working in conjunction with local San Diego police officers, conducted a raid on the apartment Mr. Chong was visiting, confiscating roughly 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs, and weapons, according to local news reports.
Mr. Chong was taken into custody and questioned at a DEA holding facility in downtown San Diego. After questioning, he was told he would not be charged and would be released shortly, and was returned to a windowless five by ten foot holding cell. According to Mr. Chong, one agent even told him he would give him a ride back to his residence after being released.
Unfortunately for the young college student, things did not pan out that way. Apparently, Mr. Chong was forgotten about, and was left unattended in the cell for four and a half days without food or water.
“It was an accident, a really bad, horrible accident,” Mr. Chong was quoted as stating in a press conference with his lawyers in San Diego.
Mr. Chong suffered from extreme dehydration and was starving while locked up in the holding cell, and was on the verge of going insane he told reporters. The situation was so extreme Mr. Chong actually drank his own urine, began hallucinating, and even attempted to carve a statement apologizing to his mother into his own skin using his broken eyeglasses.
When Mr. Chong was eventually discovered, he was treated at a local hospital for dehydration, cramps, and other minor injuries. He told reporters he could hear the cell next to him being opened and closed, and would call out only to have his pleas for help go unheard – or ignored.
“They never came back, ignored all my cries and I still don’t know what happened,” Mr. Chong stated. “I’m not sure how they could forget me.”
The DEA issued a rare apology and vowed to review its detention procedures to ensure this never happens again.
“I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here last week,” William R. Sherman, DEA San Diego acting special agent-in-charge was quoted as saying last May. “I extend my deepest apologies to the young man and want to express that this event is not indicative of the high standards that I hold my employees to. I have personally ordered an extensive review of our policies and procedures.”
Eugene Ireland, Mr. Chong’s attorney, said that the Justice Department and inspector general were still trying to determine exactly how this all happened, raising questions of accountability and competency.
“What happened to Daniel should never happen to any human being on the face of the planet,” Mr. Ireland said at the press conference.
John Friend is a writer who lives in California.