SAN DIEGO — The Drug Enforcement Administration issued an apology Wednesday to a California student who was picked up during a drug raid and left in a holding cell for several days without food, water or access to a toilet.
DEA San Diego Acting Special Agent-In-Charge William R. Sherman said in a statement that he was troubled by the treatment of Daniel Chong and extended his “deepest apologies” to him.
The agency is investigating how its agents forgot about Chong from April 21 to April 25.
Chong, 23, was never arrested, was not going to be charged with a crime and should have been released, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the DEA case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The engineering student at University of California, San Diego, was swept up as one of nine suspects in a drug raid that netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. His lawyer, Eugene Iredale, said Chong went to a friend’s house on April 20 to get high and fell asleep. Agents stormed in at 9 a.m. the next day.
Chong said DEA agents told him he would be released. One agent even promised to drive him home from the DEA field office in Kearny Mesa, he said.
Instead, he was returned to a holding cell to await release. He also said the lights went off at one point and stayed off for several days.
Chong told U-T San Diego that he drank his own urine to survive.
“I had to do what I had to do to survive,” he said.
At one point, he ripped his clothing and shoved a shred of it under the door, hoping someone would spot it and rescue him, his attorney said. He tried to dig through the walls with his handcuffed hands to get water to come out, Iredale said. He ripped away foam from the wall.
Chong also ingested a white powder DEA agents said was left in the cell accidentally and later identified as methamphetamine. He described having hallucinations, saying: “I was completely insane.”
He bit into his glasses to break them and tried to use a shard to scratch “Sorry Mom” into his arm, but stopped after the “S.” Iredale said he believes Chong
When he was found on April 25, he was wheeled out on a gurney. Paramedics took him to a hospital where he was treated for cramps, dehydration, a perforated esophagus and kidney failure, Iredale said. He spent five days at the hospital, including three days in intensive care, before leaving Sunday.
“He nearly died,” Iredale said. “If he had been there another 12 to 24 hours he probably would have died.”
Iredale said he plans to file a claim against the federal government and, if it is denied, he will proceed with filing a federal lawsuit.
Sherman says the event is not indicative of the high standards to which he holds his employees. He says he has personally ordered an extensive review of his office’s policies and procedures.
Chong said he could hear the muffled voices of agents outside his windowless cell and the sound of the door of the next cell being opened and closed. He kicked and screamed as loud as he could. His cries for help went unheard.
“When they opened the door, one of them said: ‘Here’s the water you’ve been asking for’,” Chong said. “But I was pretty out of it at the time.”
Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.