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College student left in cell 4 days just tried to survive

By Julie Watson

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:28 a.m. HST, May 03, 2012

SAN DIEGO >> After questioning him, federal agents told the college student swept up in a drug raid to hang tight in the holding cell while they finished the paperwork to release him.

Daniel Chong grew annoyed as he waited hours for them to return. He was livid after spending the night there. He screamed and kicked the door.

Then as the days dragged on, the terrifying realization set in that he was trapped. He had been forgotten in a 5-by-10-foot windowless room, hearing only the muffled sounds of voices and toilets flushing in the Drug Enforcement Administration facility in San Diego.

On the third day, he began to hallucinate. He urinated on a metal bench to be able 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.

Then, the 23-year-old says he gave up and accepted death. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them. He says 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." He says he considered ending his life with the glass to quicken his death.

"I pretty much lost my mind," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Help came after four days, when agents on a fluke opened the door and found him covered in his own feces. He says a bewildered agent asked: "Where'd you come from?"

Chong spent five days in the hospital for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He had lost 15 pounds.

His attorneys filed a $20 million claim on Wednesday against the federal agency, saying his treatment constitutes torture under U.S. and international law. The five-page notice, a required precursor to a lawsuit, was sent to the DEA's chief counsel in Washington, D.C. The $20 million figure refers to the maximum amount that Chong and his lawyers would seek.

The top DEA agent in San Diego, William R. Sherman, said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled" by what happened to Chong and has personally ordered an extensive review of his office's policies and procedures. The agency declined to say what those were.

Chong was not going to be charged with a crime and should have been released, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the DEA case and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

Chong said he has no criminal record.

The incident was one of the worst cases of its kind, said Thomas Beauclair, deputy director of the National Corrections Institute, a federal agency that provides training and technical assistance to corrections agencies.

"That is pretty much unheard of," he said, noting that, in his 40-year career, he has heard of instances where people were forgotten overnight but not for days.

A federal law enforcement official familiar with DEA operations said the agency's protocols require that cells be checked each night.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the cell where Chong was held is not intended for overnight stays because it does not have a toilet.

Federal lawmakers are demanding a thorough investigation. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Eric Holder.

"Please provide me with the results and the actions the department will take to make sure those responsible are held accountable and that no one in DEA custody will ever again be forced to endure such treatment," the letter stated.

Chong said no one has contacted him personally to apologize.

Chong told the AP his ordeal started after he went to his friend's house on April 20 to get high, part of a national, annual countercultural ritual on that date. Chong slept there that night and, the next morning, agents stormed into the house. The raid netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Nine people, including Chong, were taken into custody, according to the DEA.

Chong was questioned, then agents told him he was not a suspect and would be released shortly.

At one point, he ripped a piece of his jacket off with his teeth and shoved it under the door, hoping someone would spot it and free him.

Chong said he ingested a white powder that he found in the cell. Agents later identified it as methamphetamine. Chong said he ingested it to survive.

The next day, hallucinations started, he said. They included Japanese animation characters who told him to dig into the walls to search for water, which he tried, tearing apart the wall's plastic lining.

People can die from dehydration in as little as three to seven days, said Dr. Wally Ghurabi at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.

Ghurabi said Chong was wise to drink his own urine to stay hydrated.


Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin Freking in Washington, D.C., Elliot Spagat in San Diego, and Amy Taxin in Orange County, Calif., contributed to this report.

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kainalu wrote:
Sue the DEA out of existence. This is a nightmare of a story.
on May 2,2012 | 08:13AM
news333 wrote:
It is outright torture. If they do this to him, they will do it to any of us. Give all drugs to the Doctors to regulate. See how much drugs are being distributed. Arrest a few and many take their place.
on May 2,2012 | 09:55AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Man is he going to be rich soon.
on May 2,2012 | 08:18AM
saveparadise wrote:
Law suit again! Worth at least 5 million........
on May 2,2012 | 08:21AM
summer43 wrote:
Perhaps because he's Asian. Law Enforcement does treat Asian diferently than White.
on May 2,2012 | 08:27AM
96706 wrote:
You are SOOOOOOO right!!
on May 2,2012 | 08:57AM
Peacenik wrote:
There's no danger of them rioting and looting, so it's okay. They're the Invisibles, no wonder they forgot about him.
on May 2,2012 | 09:13AM
fishguy wrote:
Yup, if he was black, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would be all over the news and a million people march to follow.
on May 2,2012 | 09:21AM
BO0o07 wrote:
You forgot rioting too,,,,,
on May 2,2012 | 09:40AM
lowtone123 wrote:
I guess the DEA can breathe a sigh of relief.
on May 2,2012 | 10:37AM
Oye_Como_Va wrote:
Hey, lay off the DEA, they were busy with a group of hootchi mamas like the Secret Service.
on May 2,2012 | 10:36PM
cojef wrote:
Display of blatant arrogance of law enforcen\ment on a non-white. What took place is a representation of the lack sensitivity of our enforecement officers. They don't make them like they did in the past. The likes of the Cartagena scandal indicate more of the same. What happened to God, Country, Pride, and Loyalty. The caliber of our law enforcement officers need a big shake-up. Supervisors are disturbed with the incidents, and do not know how to cope with the problems. Simple, LACK OF DISCIPLINE!
on May 2,2012 | 08:40AM
Ripoff wrote:
on May 2,2012 | 08:53AM
96706 wrote:
I hope he sues the begeeezeers outta the DEA. This is clearly discrimination!!
on May 2,2012 | 08:58AM
SteveToo wrote:
This has NOTHING to do w/RACE. Just a bunch of idiots in the DEA.
on May 2,2012 | 08:59AM
Usagi336 wrote:
Hmmmm... Let me see, drugs make you irresponsible, forgetful and blissfully ignorant. Sounds like the DEA is just as, or more dangerous than the drugs they're supposed to be protecting us from!
on May 2,2012 | 09:08AM
Akhmed_PKC wrote:
Holy smokes!
on May 2,2012 | 09:19AM
fishguy wrote:
Wow!!!! I thought this only happens in China. Someone needs to be held accountable. Money alone is not cutting it. Someone or ones need to be charged with a crime and put in that same cell for the same amount of days. WTF!
on May 2,2012 | 09:20AM
Bully wrote:
Worthless apology, the agents should be fired and then the agency should be sued for having the idiots on the payroll.
on May 2,2012 | 10:06AM
primowarrior wrote:
The DEA agents "accidentally" left a white powder in that cell?! What the.....?
on May 2,2012 | 10:06AM
NTDENA wrote:
I am absolutely disgusted with these DEA individuals. As Kainalu stated this is a nightmare ten times over!
on May 2,2012 | 10:15AM
olos73 wrote:
He should've just pissed by the door and hope it went under the crack. That way, they would've known somebody was in the cell. $$$ is coming his way.
on May 2,2012 | 11:09AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
So who was the biggest criminal in all this?
on May 2,2012 | 12:43PM
medigogo wrote:
Did they do anything other than the apology? Did anyone get fired or reprimanded? Was there a procedure in booking people into the system and daily inventory? Just how did that happen? Why was there the meth in the cell? This place is so mismanaged, to say the least. Rather than apologizing, the area chief should be at the unemployment office now.
on May 2,2012 | 12:43PM
EastsideHomies wrote:
"went to his friend's house on April 20 to get high." Take responsibility, you should've been doing your homework!
on May 2,2012 | 12:52PM
summer43 wrote:
They treat Asian badly all the time because they know Asian people are not violence as Black people. Just think if this happened to a black person. Riots would happen all over the U.S. Chong could have died in that cell. 4 days is a long time to go without water.
on May 2,2012 | 01:23PM
TLehel wrote:
Pfffffffftttttttt homework on 4/20? Be reasonable here!
on May 3,2012 | 10:43AM
poidragon wrote:
'high' standards of the DEA? Yea, right! This probably happens more often than it is reported in the media! Heads in the DEA office should roll for this atrocity; how convenient, that they 'forgot' that they had someone custody, this is just another indication of the lack of accountability and oversight by the DEA and their field agents!
on May 2,2012 | 03:46PM
patk wrote:
This is a funny story. I bet he stays away from drugs now. Or maybe overdoses due to the trauma, one or the other. You people sound like druggie potheads that blame the gov't for every little thing. Yes, this is a little thing cuz he's still alive. Not so for the people that overdose or get killed by the same Mexican dealers these guys buy their crap from. Stay away from drug houses and this won't happen to you. What a sorry bunch of whiners. And no, i'm not part of any law enforcement organization.
on May 2,2012 | 04:33PM
Tipops wrote:
If Chong was black our prez would be on TV calling the DEA stupid and be telling us all how his son would look like Daniel. Ironic isn't it? That rant aside, what's happening with our soldiers and government agents? No, seriously what's happening? From Afghanistan to South America and now in San Diego and even here, it seems like our government employees are going berserk. Time to clean house? Where does the buck stop? Let us all, as americans work to fix this before it gets even more broken.
on May 2,2012 | 06:02PM
warriorrebel wrote:
DEA messed up and should be held accountable, but the bottom line, Chong would never have been in that situation if he wasn't a pot head - "Iredale said Chong, an engineering student at the University of California, San Diego, went to his friend's house on April 20 to get high. Every April 20th, pot smokers light up in a counterculture ritual held around the country at 4:20 p.m." The amount of drugs found at that residence shows the naive mentality of potheads like Chong. Should've just got high in his dorm room Yes DEA screwed up big time, but so did Chong.
on May 3,2012 | 05:23AM
Macadamiamac wrote:
This is no longer a government 'of, by and for the people'. This incident is further evidence that there is a nazi mindset in some quarters of government masquerading as law enforcement. This must be stamped out before it spreads. Twenty-million is chump change compared to the budget of these neo-nazi agencies, go for 20 Billion and put some hurt on them.
on May 3,2012 | 08:43AM
charja wrote:
Curious, what about the other "Nine people, including Chong, were taken into custody, according to the DEA." How come these so called "friends" (he went over to a friend's house) didn't ask about him? They were released, didn't they ask "hey where's Chong?" Sure got some nice friends, time to dump them. Sue the hell out of the DEA.
on May 3,2012 | 09:06AM
TLehel wrote:
Guys guys guys. . . this is not a matter of racism. Those DEA peeps obviously have a mild form of down syndrome.
on May 3,2012 | 10:44AM
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