Daniel Chong, forgotten in DEA cell, settles suit for $4.1 million
SAN DIEGO (CNN) — A University of California San Diego student left unmonitored in a holding cell for five days by the Drug Enforcement Administration has settled a lawsuit for $4.1 million, his attorney said Tuesday.
“This was a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions,” said attorney Julia Yoo.
Daniel Chong, 25, drank his own urine to survive and even wrote a farewell note to his mother before authorities discovered him severely dehydrated after a 2012 drug raid in San Diego.
Chong was detained on the morning of April 21 when DEA agents raided a house they suspected was being used to distribute MDMA, commonly known as “ecstasy.”
A multiagency narcotics task force, including state agents, detained nine people and seized about 18,000 ecstasy pills, marijuana, prescription medications, hallucinogenic mushrooms, several guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from the house, according to the DEA.
It wasn’t until the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25, that an agent opened the steel door to Chong’s cell and found the handcuffed student, Chong’s attorney Gene Iredale said last year.
Upon his release, Mr. Chong told CNN affiliate KNSD that he was visiting a friend and knew nothing about the presence of drugs and guns. He was never formally arrested or charged, the DEA said.
While detained, Chong had given up and accepted death, using a shard of glass from his glasses to carve “Sorry Mom” onto his arm as a farewell message, Yoo said. Chong lost 15 pounds and suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
“He’s the strongest person I have ever met,” Yoo said. “As a result of his case, it’s one of the primary reasons the DEA placed a nationwide policy that calls on each agent at satellite offices to check on the well-being of prisoners in their cells on a daily basis,” Yoo said.
A spokeswoman from the San Diego office of the DEA declined to comment about the settlement but told CNN that a review of their procedures and protocols was conducted and submitted to the inspector general’s office at the Department of Justice.
Since the incident, Chong has returned to complete his undergraduate degree at UC San Diego, Yoo said. “He changed his major from engineering to economics and wants to finish school, pursue his career and help take care of his mother.”
By Stan Wilson