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College student left in DEA cell to get $4M in settlement

By Alicia A. Caldwell & Elliot Spagat

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:36 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2013

SAN DIEGO » A 25-year old college student has reached a $4.1 million settlement with the federal government after he was abandoned in a windowless Drug Enforcement Administration cell for more than four days without food or water, his attorneys said Tuesday.

The DEA introduced national detention standards as a result of the ordeal involving Daniel Chong, including daily inspections and a requirement for cameras in cells, said Julia Yoo, one of his lawyers.

Chong said he drank his own urine to stay alive, hallucinated that agents were trying to poison him with gases through the vents, and tried to carve a farewell message to his mother in his arm.

It remained unclear how the situation occurred, and no one has been disciplined, said Eugene Iredale, another attorney for Chong. The Justice Department's inspector general is investigating.

"It sounded like it was an accident — a really, really bad, horrible accident," Chong said.

Chong was taken into custody during a drug raid and placed in the cell in April 2012 by a San Diego police officer authorized to perform DEA work on a task force. The officer told Chong he would not be charged and said, "Hang tight, we'll come get you in a minute," Iredale said.

The door to the 5-by-10-foot cell did not reopen for 4 1/2 days.

Justice Department spokeswoman Allison Price confirmed the settlement was reached for $4.1 million but declined to answer other questions. The DEA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Detective Gary Hassen, a San Diego police spokesman, referred questions to the DEA.

Since attorney fees are capped at 20 percent of damages and the settlement payment is tax-free, Chong will collect at least $3.2 million, Iredale said. Chong, now an economics student at the University of California, San Diego, said he planned to buy his parents a house.

Chon was a 23-year-old engineering student when he was at a friend's house where the DEA found 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Iredale acknowledged Chong was there to consume marijuana.

Chong and eight other people were taken into custody, but authorities decided against pursing charges against him after questioning.

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

Chong said he accepted the possibility of death. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them and used a shard of glass to try to carve "Sorry Mom" onto his arm so he could leave something for her. He only managed to finish an "S."

Chong said he slid a shoelace under the door and screamed to get attention before five or six people found him covered in his feces in the cell at the DEA's San Diego headquarters.

"All I wanted was my sanity," Chong said. "I wasn't making any sense."

Chong was hospitalized for 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.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, today renewed his call for the DEA to explain the incident.

"How did this incident happen? Has there been any disciplinary action against the responsible employees? And has the agency taken major steps to prevent an incident like this from happening again?" he said.

Caldwell reported from Washington.

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cojef wrote:
Not enough for the inhumane and indignant treatment he had to bear during those 4 days in a small "gulag" like cell in San Diego. Remember the lawyers will at least get 33% . He will for the rest of his life be faced with injury caused by the imprisonment, namely, kidney failure and perforated esophagus. These injuries have long-term conequences.
on July 30,2013 | 10:53AM
mikethenovice wrote:
You need more than four days before the body suffers. Look at all of the prisoner of war and what they had to endure.
on July 30,2013 | 11:35AM
eoe wrote:
OK. I will lock you in a closet for 4 days then since it is no big deal.
on July 30,2013 | 12:11PM
false wrote:
I'd like to be on the list as an observer.
on July 30,2013 | 01:24PM
f206 wrote:
That's a stupid comment!!
on July 30,2013 | 12:50PM
mikethenovice wrote:
It pays to be fat. Fat people can survive longer in extreme cases like this. It's like money in the bank.
on July 30,2013 | 11:38AM
NotNasti wrote:
The rule of threes: 3 minutes without air, 3 hours in harsh environment (snow, etc.), 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.
on July 30,2013 | 12:05PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
It's amazing that the DEA had no policy or procedure on the monitoring of arrestees in custody such as suicide checks, feeding of detainees,medical checks and so on.....police and detention/correctional facilities have assigned personnel that monitor arrestees's health and welfare while in custody.....
on July 30,2013 | 12:24PM
kuewa wrote:
"Chong's attorneys say the DEA had no policy on the treatment of detainees at the time." Is that the best excuse the DEA can come up with? . The DEA, being an agency of the Federal government, should have been subject to the same constitutional and legal restrictions on treatment of US citizens as any other Federal agency even if it did not have its own policies. Not even not-citizen prisoners of war can be legally treated in this manner, with open-ended deprivation of food and water.
on July 30,2013 | 02:11PM
AhiPoke wrote:
IMO, the most upsetting part of this incident is that no one will ever be held accountable. For unknown reasons, public employees are exempt from being punished no matter how bad their actions are. That's why things like this will continue to happen. No one cares.
on July 30,2013 | 02:11PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
When an agency says they have no comment it means that they hope that you will eventually forget what happened....
on July 30,2013 | 03:53PM
shanik wrote:
imagine if this kid was black, just saying...
on July 30,2013 | 02:32PM
kuewa wrote:
just saying what?
on July 30,2013 | 03:14PM
cojef wrote:
You would have Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson on DEA's back in less than a New York minute. The FBI would have to conduct an investigation to determine if his Civil Rights was not violated. There is no advocacy organization for this Asian up in arms, only his money grabbing attorney.
on July 31,2013 | 07:45AM
whatzupwitdat wrote:
All the money in the world can't buy back your health but at least he got something for his pain, suffering.
on July 30,2013 | 02:52PM
AhiPoke wrote:
"The DEA issued a rare public apology at the time." - The DEA is known to have destroyed wrong homes and injure occupants in pursuit of drug dealers and leave, not only without an apology but, with the owner having to pay to fix the mess.
on July 30,2013 | 03:11PM
SteveToo wrote:
Lets see he gets 3.2 million. Guess the boy can retire early. I sure would. PARTY TIME. Put the money in the stock market and live off the interest.
on July 30,2013 | 05:12PM
kelbells34 wrote:
That'll teach him to do drugs in a drug dealing house again!!! But, seriously, the guard who said he'll be back in a minute, should be disciplined. Who is he? 10 second TOM??? He probably did that on purpose. It NEVER crossed his mind? He was about to let the kid out and BOOM, time to clock out. He went on vacay. Then, where was he detained? In the basement? His family and friends weren't wondering about him? Where's Daniel? Wasn't it a couple days pass the missing persons requirement?
on July 30,2013 | 05:53PM
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