Daniel Chong, a University of California San Diego engineering student who was left unmonitored in a holding cell for 5 days by the Drug Enforcement Administration has settled with the government for $4.1 million, his attorney Julia Yoo told the media.

“This was a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions,” attorney Julia Yoo said on Tuesday.

Daniel Chong, 25, had to drink his own urine to survive and even scrawled a goodbye note to his mother in his own arm before being discovered by authorities.  He was severely dehydrated, starving, and suffering from PTSD.  He was held in a 5-by-10-foot cell with no windows, and only a peephole in the door.  It was made of thick concrete and situated in a narrow hallway with only four cells.  The area was isolated form the rest of the DEA facility.  There was no toilet, only a metal bench.  Chong was handcuffed the entire time.  Out of desperation, at one point, Chong attempted to set off the sprinkler system using his handcuffs, but failed.  Chong also attempted to kick the door and scream to get the attention of officials.

“I was screaming. I was completely insane,” he told KWSB.

It isn’t explained how the DEA didn’t record the arrest of Chong, but he was never charged with any crime.  It is also not clear why or how no one heard him.  Chong told the San Diego Union-Tribune last year that he heard footsteps, muffled voices, and opening and closing doors around him, even the cell adjacent to his.  Yet, no one responded to his pleas for help as he suffered in anguish.

Chong was detained on the morning of April 21, 2012, when the DEA raided a house they suspected of being used to distribute MDMA or ecstasy.  A multiagency narcotics task force, including state agents, detained nine people and seized about 18,000 ecstasy pills, marijuana, prescription medications, hallucinogenic mushrooms, several guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from the house, according to the DEA.  Chong told KNSD that he was visiting a friend and didn’t know anything about the drugs or guns.  It wasn’t until the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25th that an agent finally opened the holding cell door to find Chong in his deteriorated state.  While detained, Chong had given up and accepted his death.  He broke his glasses and used a shard of the glass to carve in his arm, “Sorry Mom”.  He had lost a total of 15 pounds over those 5 days.

“He’s the strongest person I have ever met,” Yoo said. “As a result of his case, it’s one of the primary reasons the DEA placed a nationwide policy that calls on each agent at satellite offices to check on the well-being of prisoners in their cells on a daily basis.”

A DEA spokeswoman declined to comment to the media, but claimed that a review of DEA procedure was conducted and submitted to the Inspector General’s Office at the DOJ.  She then referred to the office’s previous statement:

“I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here,” said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman shortly after the incident. “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.”

Since recovering, Daniel Chong has returned to school to complete his undergraduate degree.  He changed his major, like many college-aged students, from engineering to economics.  He expressed, through his attorney, his want to pursue a career in economics in order to “…help take care of his mother.”

  1. Lon Spector says:

    It CAN happen here. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


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