Justice Department Report Blames 4 DEA Agents for Deadly Detention Error

In April of 2012, University of California, San Diego student Daniel Chong was mistakenly picked up during a drug raid. He was detained and taken to a Drug Enforcement Administration facility, where, according to Chong’s testimony, agents told him his detention was a mistake and that he would be released and given a ride home shortly. Then, an agent handcuffed Chong and placed him in a holding cell, telling him, “Hang tight, I’ll come get you in a minute.”

Chong told Inside Edition, “The doors closed and never opened again… until four and a half days later.” For nearly five days, Chong was forgotten by agents in the cell and therefore received no food, water, or restroom breaks. Though four agents did notice his presence in the cell, each of them believed that someone else was going to return for him shortly and took no action.

Subsequently, Chong experienced serious medical and mental health issues that nearly cost him his life. He was left with no choice but to drink his own urine to survive, and, at one point, after being led to believe that no one was going to notice him before he passed away, attempted to carve a good bye note to his mother in his own arm with a shard of broken glass from his damaged eye wear. When he was discovered later by DEA agents that had not been assigned to his case, he was found screaming and covered in his own feces.

Chong was then rushed to the hospital where he was treated for the next five days for a perforated esophagus, dehydration, kidney failure, and cramps. While in custody, he lost fifteen pounds, and he currently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

CNN reported that a settlement was reached in the case, and the DEA has been ordered to pay $4.1 million in damages to Chong, putting US taxpayers on the hook for what Chong’s lawyer Julia Yoo called “a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions.” Reason published the Justice Department’s newly-released July 2014 report on the incident, which places the blame primarily on the DEA supervisor who failed to provide a system for monitoring the condition of detainees. The report also blames three other agents, two task force officers and a DEA employee, who were responsible for keeping up with Chong. Also, the fact that the supervisor attempted to investigate the incident without reporting to management suggests that there may have been an effort to cover up the mistake. Though the Justice Department report recommends policy adjustments in an effort to prevent further incidents, it does not note whether or not any disciplinary actions will be taken against the DEA officials who left Chong without food, water, or access to a restroom for almost five days.

Said Chong’s lawyer Julia Yoo, “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.”