Student Accidentally Locked in DEA Cell for 5 Days Settles Suit for $4.1 Million


Daniel Chong, a 25-year-old student at UC San Diego who was accidentally locked inside a Drug Enforcement Administration interrogation room for five days without food or water, will receive $4.1 million after settling a lawsuit against the organization for maltreatment, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The incident began over a year ago when Chong was swept up in a DEA raid after he went to a house near campus to smoke marijuana on the unofficial pot-smoker’s holiday — April 20. According to court documents, officers raided the house and found large quantities of ecstasy pills and hallucinogenic mushrooms, in addition to weapons and ammunition. The house had been under surveillance for several days and Chong just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He and eight other suspects were taken into custody to be interrogated. After being questioned, he was told he would soon be released and was left alone in a 5-by-10-foot windowless room. Little did Chong realize that he would be accidentally locked in the room for five days straight without food, water or a toilet.

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While trapped in the room, Chong quickly lost weight and suffered from hallucinations. After failing to break a fire sprinkler for water, he was forced to drink his own urine to survive. The student tried screaming for help, but eventually grew too weak. When he was discovered by DEA employees, he was covered in his own feces and severely dehydrated. Chong was rushed to the hospital where he spent another five days recovering from near kidney failure.

Investigators are unsure of exactly how the student was forgotten and left in the room, but speculate that the officer who questioned him was not from the DEA, but from another agency and left for the day thinking someone else would release Chong.

“This was a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions,” said attorney Julia Yoo.

Chong, who underwent intensive psychological therapy, is now set to receive $4.1 million from the government after settling a lawsuit.

Days after the incident, a DEA official issued an apology to Chong and ordered an extensive review of the DEA’s procedures.

“I extend my deepest apologies [to] the young man and want to express that this event is not indicative of the high standards that I hold my employees to,” said William R. Sherman, who was then acting special agent in charge of the DEA’s San Diego Division.

Chong is still recovering from the incident by continuing therapy and has returned to UCSD to finish his degree.

“It was an accident, a really, really bad, horrible accident,” Chong said.

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