California Student Abandoned in DEA Cell for Four Days, Drinks Own Urine to Survive

Daniel Chong said agents locked him in a holding cell with no food or water -- and then forgot about him.

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K.C. Alfred / U-T San Diego / AP

Daniel Chong appears at a news conference where he discussed his detention by the DEA during a news conference on May 1, 2012 in San Diego.

Daniel Chong had a 4/20 to remember.

On April 20th, the 23-year-old said, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency raided the San Diego house where he was celebrating the marijuana-smoking holiday . Four days later, he was in a very different sort of haze – one that found him fighting for his life.

Chong claims the DEA agents locked him in a windowless holding cell and then forgot about him for four days. Left with no food or water, he said he was forced to drink his own urine and contemplated suicide.

In “survival mode,” he attempted, futilely, to set off an overhead sprinkler system to get water. He kicked, he screamed, he cried, and still no one came to his aid, he says. After the first two days with no food or water, Chong told the Associated Press that he began to hallucinate, imagining “Japanese animation characters who told him to dig into the walls to search for water.”

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But there was not a drop to drink in the 5-by-10 holding cell. The only sustenance he could find was a packet of white powder wrapped in a blanket, which turned out to be meth. Realizing the dire situation he was in, Chong said he contemplated suicide, breaking his glasses and scrawling the message “Sorry Mom” on his arm.

The saga began the morning of April 21st, when DEA agents raided the house to discover 18,000 ecstasy pills, along with other drugs and guns. Agents arrested the nine people in the house and took them to the DEA office. Chong was handcuffed but never charged, and taken to the holding cell under the understanding that he’d soon be released. “That door never opened again until Wednesday,” he told the New York Times.

Chong, an engineering student at the University of California, San Diego, was hospitalized for five days after his cell door was finally opened on April 25. He was treated for a perforated lung, possible kidney failure and other illnesses.

“I extend my deepest apologies to the young man,” William R. Sherman, the acting special agent in charge of the DEA in San Diego said Wednesday in a statement. Sherman said he was “deeply troubled” by the allegations and has ordered an investigation. But the headaches don’t stop there: Chong acquired a lawyer Wednesday to file a $20 million claim against the government agency. “How they failed to realize he was there or ignored him is beyond comprehension,” Chong’s lawyer Eugene Iredale told the Times. Iredale says the DEA’s treatment is equivalent to torture. Although even prisoners at Guantanamo are afforded water.

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