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Student left in cell for 4 days files $20M claim against DEA

Daniel Chong, a 23-year-old university student who was allegedly forgotten about in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) holding cell for nearly five days. KNSD-TV's Tony Shin reports.

Daniel Chong, a San Diego student who was left in a Drug Enforcement Administration holding cell for nearly five days after he was allegedly forgotten about, has filed a claim for $20 million after what he described as his "life-altering" experience, NBC San Diego reported.

The 23-year-old told NBC San Diego that he was increasingly worried throughout the days he spent in a 5-foot-by-10-foot cell, and told how he drank his own urine to survive.

“They never came back, ignored all my cries and I still don’t know what happened,” he said. “I’m not sure how they could forget me.” 

As NBC San Diego was first to report Saturday, the DEA confirmed its agents were investigating an incident in which a suspect, arrested Saturday, April 21, was detained at their office for several days and allegedly forgotten about. 

DEA apologizes to student left for days in cell with no food or water

Chong's lawyers filed the claim Wednesday, and also asked the DEA provide evidence related to the incident. The DEA said it was investigating why the student was not released.

Chong said he was at a friend’s house in University City celebrating 4/20, a day many marijuana users set aside to smoke, when agents came inside and raided the residence. Chong was then taken to the DEA office in Kearny Mesa. 

He said agents questioned him, and then told him he could go home. One agent even offered him a ride, Chong said. No criminal charges were filed against him. 

But Chong did not go home that night. Instead, he was placed in a cell for five days without any human contact and was not given food or drink. In his desperation, he said he was forced to drink his own urine.

“I had to do what I had to do to survive ... I hallucinated by the third day,” Chong said. “I was completely insane.” 

Chong said he lost roughly 15 pounds during the time he was alone.

His lawyer, Gene Iredale, confirmed that Chong ingested a powdery substance found inside the cell. Later testing revealed the substance was methamphetamine. 

After days of being ignored, Chong said he tried to take his own life by breaking the glass from his spectacles with his teeth and then attempting to carve “Sorry mom” on his arm.

He said nurses also found pieces of glass in his throat, which led him to believe he ingested the pieces purposefully. 

Chong said he could hear DEA employees and people in neighboring cells. He screamed to let them know he was there, but no one replied.

He kicked the door, but no one came to get him. By the time DEA officers found Chong in his cell Wednesday morning, he was completely incoherent, said Iredale. 

“I didn’t think I would come out,” Chong said. 

He said when employees discovered him in the cell that they looked confused and nervous. A DEA employee rode with him to the hospital, where they paid for Chong’s visit. 

He spent three days in the intensive care unit at Sharp Hospital and his kidneys were close to failing. 

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Iredale, who compared Chong’s experience to the torture suffered by inmates at in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq.

The incident also caused Chong to miss his midterms at UCSD. He said he does not know if he will return to school because his perspective on life has changed since his isolation. 

San Diego defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms said Chong could get millions from 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," she added. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration has issued an apology to Chong. 

DEA San Diego Acting Special Agent-In-Charge William R. Sherman said in a statement Wednesday that he was troubled by the treatment of Chong and extended his "deepest apologies" to him. He has ordered an extensive review of his office's policies and procedures. 


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