DEA Agrees To $4.1 Million Settlement For Student Abandoned For Days In Holding Cell


Daniel Chong (Credit: Associated Press)

Daniel Chong (Credit: Associated Press)

Daniel Chong (Credit: Associated Press)

When the Drug Enforcement Administration undertook a drug raid of Daniel Chong’s friend, agents never intended to arrest Chong or charge him with any crime. But after DEA agents found him sleeping at the home, they placed him in a windowless holding cell — and left him there for more than four days without access to food, water or a toilet.

Chong’s lawyer said Tuesday the Department of Justice has agreed to settle his case for $4.1 million. The incident has also prompted the DEA to develop a policy on detainees for the first time, which includes placing cameras in holding cells. The Associated Press explains the incident:

Chong, who was an engineering student at University of California, San Diego, was at a friend’s house in April 2012 when a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raid netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Chong and eight others were taken into custody.

Agents told Chong he would not be charged and had him wait in the cell at DEA offices in San Diego. The door did not reopen for four days, when agents found him severely dehydrated and covered in his own feces.

Chong said he began to hallucinate on the third day. He urinated on a metal bench to drink his urine. He stacked a blanket, his pants and shoes on the bench and tried to reach an overhead fire sprinkler, futilely swatting at it with his cuffed hands to set it off.

Chong said last year that he gave up and accepted death. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them. He said he used a shard of glass to carve “Sorry Mom” onto his arm so he could leave something for her. He managed to finish an “S.”

Chong was hospitalized for five days for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He lost 15 pounds.

The DEA apologized at the time for what seemed to be an isolated, egregious mistake. But drug reform advocates have pointed out that the incident is partially reflective of a massive War on Drugs enforcement machine that is processing and incarcerating too many people to meet its basic obligations.

Daniel Chong was never arrested and the Drug Enforcement Administration never had plans to charge him with any crime. But after he was found sleeping at a friend’s house during a 2012 DEA raid, agents placed him in a holding cell — and left him there for four days. Drug offenders now make up almost half of the massive federal prison population.