Forgotten student files $20-million lawsuit

(AFP Photo / Getty Images)
­A 23-year-old college student is asking the US Drug Enforcement Agency to compensate him with $20 million after federal agents abandoned him in an empty jail cell for nearly five days without food or water — and without filing charges.

Daniel Chong from the University of California, San Diego, has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the DEA after he was handcuffed and forgotten in a small, 5-by-10-foot holding cell. For four-and-a-half days, Chong was left in shackles to fend for himself and tells reporters that he drank his own urine to try and survive.

"I pretty much lost my mind," he tells the Associated Press.

Chong was swept up by DEA agents during a raid of a suspected ecstasy pill distribution center in Southern California on April 20. Authorities apprehended nine suspects in all, then seven of the suspects to a separate facility. The eighth suspect was released immediately, but it was nearly five days before an agent discovered Chong in an abandoned cell, shackled and close to death.

To the AP, Chong says he recalls the agent opening the door and asking, "Where'd you come from?" Chong was covered in feces and 15 pounds lighter than when he entered the cell.

From there, the student was sent immediately to a local hospital where he spent three days in the intensive care unit where he was treated for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus — a condition that developed after he tried to eat glass.

"I didn't care if I died," he tells an NBC affiliate in San Diego.  "I was completely insane."

Chong also says that in a moment of weakness, he tried to carve the message “Sorry Mom” into his arm with shards of glass he smashed out of his eyewear.

The DEA has offered an apology to Chong, but the student’s attorney say that isn’t enough. His legal team is seeking $20 million from the federal agencies to something that officials are saying was an “accident.” Chong’s attorneys have also condemned the DEA for mismanagement that began even before they brought Chong in for questioning — while detained, the student found a bag containing methamphetamine that was left in the holding cell from a previous prisoner.

"I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here last week," William R. Sherman of the DEA's San Diego Division says in an apology issued this week. "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."

So far both Congressman Duncan Hunter (R) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California have offered investigations.

"The situation involving Chong may in fact be an isolated incident," Hunter writes. "Regardless, my concern is that this situation could also be a symptom of a bigger problem, with errors in procedure and oversight possibly extending to the division's law enforcement function."

On her own part, Senator Boxer is calling for an “immediate and thorough” probe from the Justice Department and that “those responsible are held accountable and that no one in DEA custody will ever again be forced to endure such treatment.”

"He is glad to be alive," Chong's lawyer, Gene Iredale, tells the Los Angeles Times. "He wants to make sure that what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else."