A college student swept up in a raid and confined to a Drug Enforcement Administration holding room in San Diego, Calif. for five days – absent food and water – has been awarded a settlement of just over $4 million dollars, reports the Los Angeles Times on July 30.
In April of 2012, 25-year-old Daniel Chong, who was an engineering student at the University of California San Diego, was doing what many college kids do – hanging out with friends and smoking marijuana.
Unknown to Chong was that the house he was visiting had been under surveillance by the DEA, and when agents stormed the house, Chong was taken into custody. DEA officials reported finding over 18,000 ecstasy pills, hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana, weapons and ammunition in the raid.
Pot-smoking Chong was there as well in the house, sleeping on a couch.
Chong was detained, and ultimately forgotten about, by DEA agents over the course of five days from April 20 to April 25 of last year. His holding cell was without windows, a toilet or a sink. Chong was given no food or water after the first day.
“It was an accident, a really, really bad, horrible accident,” Chong said.
DEA agents overseeing his detainment told Chong that he would be released after being questioned, but Chong was heartlessly left and forgotten about, still in handcuffs.
Chong said his initial screams went unheeded, and he was soon too weakened to yell or pound on the heavy steel door. He was emaciated to the point that his handcuffs slipped off his wrists.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Chong “suffered hallucinations” and “tried to break a fire sprinkler to get water but failed. Instead he said he had to drink his own urine to survive. He screamed for help but soon became too weak. For the final two days, Chong was in the dark.”
Chong even used his broken glasses to carve the message, “Sorry, mom,” into his arm.
Close to death from dehydration and kidney failure, Chong was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa, where he spent close to a week recovering. As a result of his ordeal, Chong undergoes psychotherapy and has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. His lawyer, Eugene Iredale, said therapists noted Chong was in worse shape mentally and emotionally than many combat veterans treated for stress disorders.
“It seemed impossible for them to forget me,” Chong said at the time.
Investigators have yet to determine how or why Chong was left out of sight and mind. It’s been suggested that the officer who questioned Chong did not work for the DEA, and left under the assumption that DEA officials would oversee his release. Chong was detained on a Friday, and the short staff over the weekend likely contributed to no one hearing him.
Iredale said the last person to see or speak to Chong was a San Diego policeman, whom Iredale would not name. “We’ll be back in a few minutes,” Iredale quoted the officer as telling Chong.
The DEA review of its procedures for interrogations is not yet complete, a spokesperson for the agency told the Los Angele Times. The agency is overhauling its procedures for holding suspects with the aim to never again put an individual through such unintentional torture.
Neither Chong nor any DEA agents were charged in the incident.
“What happened to Daniel Chong should never happen to any human being on the face of the planet,” Iredale said.