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Man Left In Cell By DEA Given $4.1 Million

Aired 7/30/13 on KPBS News.

A 23-year-old San Diego engineering student settled with the U.S. Justice Department after being left for four days in a windowless cell without food or water.

— A San Diego college student who was left in a DEA holding cell for nearly five days without food or water will receive $4.1 million from the federal government, his lawyers announced on Tuesday.

San Diego college student Daniel Chong appears at a July 30, 2013 news conference announcing a $4.1 million settlement with the Dept. of Justice after he was left by the DEA in a jail cell for four days.

“It was an accident,” the student, 23-year-old Daniel Chong, said at a news conference on Tuesday, “a really bad, horrible accident.”

Chong was at a friend's apartment in April 2012 when a raid coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Chong, then an engineering student at UCSD, and eight others were taken into custody.

Agents told Chong he would not be charged and had him wait in a 5-by-10-foot cell at DEA offices in San Diego. The door did not reopen for four and a half 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.

“What happened to Daniel should never happen to any human being on the face of the planet,” Chong’s lawyer Eugene Iredale told reporters at the press conference.

“The government has recognized the profound suffering that Daniel underwent,” he said.

With the settlement, no criminal charges against agents involved in the incident would be filed, Iredale said.

The Inspector General for the Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into the incident. Iredale said that although the government has already determined there was no criminal wrongdoing, he hoped the Inspector General’s investigation would lead to an “appropriate administrative sanction” for those at fault.

As part of the settlement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has also adopted policies requiring agents to document and monitor detainees and ensure their humane treatment, the lawyers said.

DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick said she couldn’t discuss the details of those policies until the Inspector General finalizes its investigation.

Chong said last year that he gave up after several days in the cell 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 five days for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He lost 15 pounds.

The DEA issued a rare public apology at the time.

Chong said Tuesday that he was in good health and was back at UCSD studying economics.

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