After being held in a holding cell for four days without food or water, University of California San Diego student Daniel Chong settled a lawsuit against the Justice Department yesterday for $4.1 million.
Cong was picked up in April of 2012, after DEA agents broke down the door of a friend's house he was visiting. The agents quickly figured out that he had nothing to do with the ecstacy pills and guns found in the house, and they told the then-23-year-old that he'd be briefly detained at the station.
He was not briefly detained.
From the New York Daily News:
Agents told Chong he would not be charged and had him wait in the cell at DEA offices in San Diego. The door did not reopen for four days, when agents found him severely dehydrated and covered in his own feces.
Chong said he began to hallucinate on the third day. He urinated on a metal bench to drink his urine. He stacked a blanket, his pants and shoes on the bench and tried to reach an overhead fire sprinkler, futilely swatting at it with his cuffed hands to set it off.
Chong said last year that he gave up and accepted death. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them. He said he used a shard of glass to carve "Sorry Mom" onto his arm so he could leave something for her. He managed to finish an "S."
What's most unbelievable about the story isn't the large size of his settlement. After the incarceration, Chong lost 15 pounds, was hospitalized for five days, and suffered from dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He deserved a nice sum for his troubles.
It's that no one in the DEA has been charged or even disciplined for nearly leaving the guy dead in a windowless cell.
I suppose we shouldn't be too shocked. The DEA loves pretending to be a paramilitary force when busting small-town campus dealers. In Alabama this February, agents rushed into Tuscaloosa homes and small head shops, assault weapons drawn, just to arrest 61 stoned college kids for possession. In 2008, the agency spent millions of dollars and a year undercover to enact San Diego State's "Operation Sudden Fall," a raid that wound up arresting 75 students—many of whom worked at the terrifying international drug cartel... Adobe Systems. Then there was the 2010 takedown of Columbia's "organized student drug ring." The NYPD touted its arrests to international media as "Operation Ivy League," but the five guys they booked turned out to be hilariously small-time. The judge had to break protocol and sentence fines much higher than the norm, just to save face. At least the agents got their photo op.
My point is that Chong's arrest may seem to be an innocent mistake—but the DEA's willingness to act like over-excited, abusive Officer Farvas when arresting college dealers is not a coincidence. I almost guarantee you that they wanted to scare Chong, then just forgot about him. This shit happens constantly.
If you're in college, you probably at least know someone who sells pot. Be careful out there.
[Hand in jail image via Shutterstock]