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$4.1m Settlement for Student Abandoned in DEA Facility

The U.S. Government agrees to pay Daniel Chong $4.1 million after ‘accidentally’ leaving him locked in a room for five days with no food or water.

Last year Daniel Chong was a student at UC San Diego, and on April 20th, like many college students, he and some friends decided to get high. Unfortunately for the group, the house they went to for the drugs was under surveillance and they soon found themselves swept up in a raid conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Whether or not you agree with Chong’s decision to smoke marijuana, what happened next is simply appalling. After being questioned by DEA agents, Chong was told no charges would be filed against him and that he’d be released soon. Still in handcuffs, Chong was placed into a locked interrogation room and left there… for five days. Five days with: no food, no water, no toilet, no human contact, and for the last 48 hours, no light.

When DEA employees finally found him, Chong was severely dehydrated and having trouble breathing. With no toilet facilities available, Chong was forced to drink his own urine to stay alive. He lost 15 pounds during the horrific ordeal and had to be hospitalized for 5 days due to kidney failure and a perforated esophagus. The event has had a lasting effect on Chong, who still receives psychological therapy for his PTSD.

What does the settlement accomplish?

In an out-of-court settlement reached this week, the federal government agreed to pay Chong $4.1 million for his maltreatment claim. But what does that really accomplish? The purpose of legal liability is to compensate an injured party for harm he has suffered. But it also serves to deter undesirable behavior and, in some cases, punish the wrongdoer. However when a government agency makes such an egregious mistake, it’s the taxpayer who ultimately foots the bill. In many cases there is no liability at all, as government agencies and their employees frequently enjoy immunity – meaning they cannot be sued.

It’s been over a year since Mr. Chong was left to rot in that 10 by 5 foot, windowless room. And yet, no one can an answer  how such a travesty occurred. There has been no word from the DEA or the Department of Justice as to whether any employees have even been disciplined. While the law suit has brought about some policy changes at DEA detention facilities, the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General is still “investigating the incident.”


Source: “Student locked in a room at DEA facilities for 5 days to get $4.1 million” by Tony Perry L.A. Times, July 30, 2013.