The Justice Department has a settled a lawsuit with a California college student who nearly died in a DEA holding cell after being held nearly five days, handcuffed, without food or water. Daniel Chong will get $4.1 million in the settlement agreement, even though no criminal charges have been filed against the agents and no one has been disciplined for the mistake that almost killed him.
The 23-year-old Chong was scooped up in a Drug Enforcement Agency raid last April and taken to a detainment facility along with several others who were accused of distributing ecstasy. After answering agents' questions, it was decided that he wouldn't be formally arrested or charged with a crime, but agents placed him in a 5-by-10-foot holding cell with his hands cuffed behind his back and told him they would return in a few minutes to release him. For reasons no one seems able to explain, it was more than four-and-a-half days before anybody came back to check on Chong, by which time he was severely dehydrated, hallucinating, incoherent, and suicidal.
The details of Chong's ordeal are so horrifying that even $4 million hardly seems like just compensation. The cell did not have a toilet or sink and he was forced to drink his own urine to try and stay alive. On the fourth day, he broke his own eyeglasses with his teeth (swallowing some of the shards) and used them to try and carve a goodbye note into his own arm. His kidneys failed after so much time without water, he lost 15 pounds, and he was hospitalized for a week with dehydration and a perforated esophagus. He spent the final two days of captivity in total darkness and still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The DEA did issue a rare apology, but has still not found any individuals to be at fault or offered a convincing explanation for the errors that allowed Chong to go unnoticed for so long. They also changed their policy to require security cameras and daily checks of all cells. Lawyer fees will take up 20 percent of the settlement, but the rest of the money that Chong receives will be tax-free.