Originally published on May 7, 2015, at NationofChange.org
According to the Department of Justice, six DEA agents were either reprimanded or received short suspensions for leaving a UC San Diego engineering student jailed for five days without food or water. Although the student almost died of dehydration, near-kidney failure, and a perforated lung from a suicide attempt, no DEA agents were fired or indicted on criminal charges.
Engineering student Daniel Chong was smoking marijuana at a friend’s apartment in San Diego early on the morning of April 21, 2012, when DEA agents raided the residence. Chong and the other detainees were transported to a DEA field office in Kearny Mesa and interrogated. After the agents determined that Chong had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, they decided to release Chong without charges and even offered to give him a ride home.
Instead of releasing Chong, the DEA agents claimed that they simply forgot about him. Left handcuffed in a windowless five-by-ten-foot holding cell, Chong endured the next five days without any food, water, or human contact. Dying of dehydration, Chong was forced to drink his own urine in order to survive.
“I had to do what I had to do to survive…I hallucinated by the third day,” Chong recalled. “I was completely insane.”
Although Chong could hear DEA employees and prisoners in neighboring cells, nobody responded to his screams. After Chong repeatedly kicked the door to get someone’s attention, the lights in his cell were shut off leaving him in complete darkness for several days.
Losing roughly 15lbs during his detention, Chong ingested a powdery white substance that he found in a plastic bag under a blanket inside his cell. Later tests revealed the substance was methamphetamine. After breaking one of the lenses from his eyeglasses, Chong repeatedly slit his wrists and swallowed the shards in an attempt to commit suicide.
On the fifth day, a DEA employee finally checked Chong’s holding cell after hearing strange noises. Chong was hallucinating and completely incoherent. DEA agents transported Chong to the intensive care unit at Sharp Memorial Hospital where he was treated for dehydration, near-failure of the kidneys, and a perforated lung from eating broken glass.
After undergoing intensive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, Chong settled his claim against the DEA for $4.1 million on July 30, 2013. The agency never charged Chong with a crime and acknowledged that several agents had simply forgotten to release Chong from his holding cell. Although DEA agents ignored his cries for help for five days, no federal employees have been charged with negligence or any other criminal charges.
According to the Justice Department, four DEA agents were reprimanded and another received suspension without pay for five days. The supervisor in charge at the time received a seven-day suspension for nearly killing a young man and forcing him to drink his own urine to survive.