A University of California San Diego student who was mistakenly left in a holding cell for nearly five days without food or water will reportedly receive a $4.1 million cash settlement from the United States Justice Department.
In April 2012, Daniel Chong, an engineering student at UC San Diego, was swept up by Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a drug raid at a friend’s off-campus house, where DEA agents seized 18,000 ecstasy pills, along with other drugs, several guns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
After questioning, when DEA agents realized Chong wasn’t involved, he was told he wouldn’t be charged and would be released. But instead, Chong was placed in a 5-by-10-foot windowless holding cell, where he remained for the next four days without anything to eat or drink.
Desperate to survive, Chong says he drank his own urine, and by the third day, he was hallucinating. Believing he would die, Chong said he broke his glasses and carved “Sorry mom” onto his arm, but was only able to complete the “s.”
“I had to do what I had to do to survive,” he told NBC News last May. “I hallucinated by the third day. I was completely insane.”
Chong said he could hear DEA employees and people in nearby cells, and he even screamed to let them know he was there, but no one answered. He said he also kicked the door, but no one came to get him.
By the time DEA agents returned to Chong’s cell, they found him covered in feces, severely dehydrated and incoherent. He had lost 15 pounds and was hospitalized in the ICU for five days for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps, and a perforated esophagus due to him swallowing small pieces of glass in a failed suicide attempt.
“I didn’t think I would come out,” Chong said.
“This was a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions,” Chong’s attorney Julia Yoo told CNN, adding that Chong has returned to complete his undergraduate degree at UCSD. “He changed his major from engineering to economics and wants to finish school, pursue his career and help take care of his mother.”
Yoo also said that as a result of Chong’s case, the DEA has instituted a nationwide policy that places daily calls to agents to check on the well-being of prisoners in their cells so that something like this will never happen again.