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Student in DEA custody forgotten without food or water for days

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents are accused of accidentally leaving a 24-year-old suspect in a holding cell for five days without food or water. KNTV's Tony Shin reports.

A San Diego college student detained for several days in a county detention facility cell is seeking an attorney and may be considering filing a civil lawsuit, sources tell NBCSanDiego.

The 24-year old UCSD engineering student was left in the cell for five days without food or water, seemingly forgotten by the federal authorities who detained him.

He was one of seven people detained after a Drug Enforcement Administration ecstasy raid in University City on April 21, according to a DEA statement.


See video, read the original report at NBCSanDiego.com

"The individual was at the house by his own admission," the DEA confirmed Monday.

During the raid, authorities said, they confiscated ecstasy, marijuana, prescription medication, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and a white powdery substance that was described as a synthetic hallucinogen. They said they also seized numerous weapons, including a Russian rifle, handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

"Seven suspects were brought back to county detention." One was released, but "accidentally left in one of the cells," a statement from the DEA read.

The defendants were brought back to the DEA office after the raid and processed. The suspects were moved around the five cells at the detention facility during the proceeding. None were strip or body cavity searched, the DEA stated. 

A law enforcement source told NBC 7 that the student was handcuffed and held in a room no larger than the average bathroom.

Sources say a worker at the DEA discovered the man by chance about five days later after hearing strange noises coming from the holding cells.

When authorities with the DEA discovered that the student was still in the cell, they immediately called emergency medical services. UTSanDiego.com reported that San Diego fire officials said paramedics were called April 25.

In the cell, the detainee told authorities he found a white powdery substance, which he took, the DEA statement said.

Later testing revealed the substance was methamphetamine.

Sources close to the student say he nearly died of kidney failure in Sharp hospital due to the dehydration he experienced. He was treated for several days and released.

He is not currently under arrest, authorities with the DEA said.

San Diego defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms says the victim could get millions if he files a lawsuit.

"In all my years of practice I've never heard of the DEA or any federal government employee simply forgetting about someone that they have in their care," she said.

"There has to be repercussions if people do not follow the safety and the care when they have a human being in their custody."

Former federal prosecutor John Kirby said he’s familiar with the holding cells at the DEA office. He told NBC 7 San Diego that the rooms have no bathrooms and the suspect likely went without food or water.

Given his familiarity with the DEA, Kirby said this incident is “inconceivable” because every detainee is processed, and it would be hard to get lost in the shuffle.

“You talk about whether they might have done it intentionally. No way, because somebody's career is done over this,” added Kirby.

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