The Drug Enforcement Administration received a memorable public relations black eye last year when University of California—San Diego student Daniel Chong disclosed his horrific five-day ordeal following an April 21 drug bust. The mistreated detainee is now $4.1 million richer with a Justice Department-approved settlement.
Chong, now 25, was not charged with any crime, but he acknowledged he was attending a 4/20 marijuana celebration with friends when DEA agents swooped in.
After being taken to a San Diego detention facility with other suspects, Chong says agents told him he would be released soon. An agent reportedly offered him a ride home.
Somehow, Chong was instead forgotten about, and was left in handcuffs in a 5-by-10-foot holding cell without food, water or a bathroom.
For five days he was left alone and unattended. Chong ate white powder he found in the room for sustenance and drank his own urine to survive. The white powder – smeared on Chong's face when he was found semi-conscious – later tested positive for methamphetamine, KNSD-TV reported.
"I didn't think I would come out," he told the television station after the ordeal.
At one point, he used his broken glasses to carve "sorry mom" into his arm as he hallucinated and attempted to kill himself. Glass was reportedly removed from his throat during a subsequent hospital stay, where doctors detected kidney failure stemming from dehydration.
The DEA apologized for the incident after Chong filed a $20 million lawsuit.
"I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here last week," DEA San Diego Acting Special Agent-in-Charge William R. Sherman said in a released statement at the time. "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. I have personally ordered an extensive review of our policies and procedures."
That review is still underway by the Justice Department's inspector general, and the DEA's national office doesn't plan to issue any comment on the multimillion-dollar settlement, which was negotiated and approved by the Justice Department.
"No, we won't be [commenting]," a member of the DEA's national public affairs staff told U.S. News.