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DEA settles $4.1 million suit after college student forgotten in cell for 5 days

DEA settles $4.1 million suit after college student forgotten in cell for 5 days

This story invoked for me one of Reagan’s famous quips:  ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’

From CNN:

A University of California San Diego student left unmonitored in a holding cell for five days by the Drug Enforcement Administration has settled a lawsuit for $4.1 million, his attorney said Tuesday.

“This was a mistake of unbelievable and unimaginable proportions,” said attorney Julia Yoo.

Daniel Chong, 25, drank his own urine to survive and even wrote a farewell note to his mother before authorities discovered him severely dehydrated after a 2012 drug raid in San Diego.

Chong was detained on the morning of April 21 when DEA agents raided a house they suspected was being used to distribute MDMA, commonly known as “ecstasy.”


While detained, Chong had given up and accepted death, using a shard of glass from his glasses to carve “Sorry Mom” onto his arm as a farewell message, Yoo said. Chong lost 15 pounds and suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

The DEA ended up seizing “about 18,000 ecstasy pills, marijuana, prescription medications, hallucinogenic mushrooms, several guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from the house.”

As it turns out, Chong was never charged or arrested. He told a CNN affiliate outlet he’d been visiting a friend at the house and was not aware of the drugs or guns there.  (Although, a previous story on the incident mentions that, according to an earlier statement from the DEA, “the individual in question was at the house, by his own admission, to get high with his friends”).

A DEA San Diego acting special agent-in-charge apologized in April at the time of the incident.

“I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here last week,” said DEA San Diego acting special agent-in-charge William R. Sherman. “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.”

Officials have said this was an extreme case and an isolated incident.  Still, it seems unfathomable how such a mistake could happen even once.  And in the end, I’d assume it’s the taxpayers that are on the hook for $4.1 million.





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“Ho Lee Fuk” “Sum Ting Wong”

Of course the taxpayers will cough up the 4.1 mil. doubtless none of the idiot employees were disciplined in any way.

legacyrepublican | July 31, 2013 at 8:49 am

What happened to this young man is Obamacare.

    Haiku Guy in reply to legacyrepublican. | July 31, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    This happens to thousands of patients every weekend at NHS hospitals all across the UK. It is called the Liverpool Protocol. Basically they ignore you from Friday afternoon until Monday morning … No food, water, medicine or assistance of any kind … If you live until Monday, they will start caring for you again. If you don’t live, they attribute your death to your underlying ailment, or old age if you are over the age of 52, and they suddenly have a free bed!

      BannedbytheGuardian in reply to Haiku Guy. | July 31, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      The blame game. Family out be there on weekends at least but obviously can’t make it.

      Staff have to be helped a bit by someone doing the little things .

      A problem is that many elderly have family that have moved to cities or overseas . The emigration numbers over 40 years adds up to 15 million plus.

      Most emigrant nations do not accept elderly parents.

      If the British were not prepared to get up & go & leave peoe behind then we would not be writing in English on LI.

I should throw a party whenever a cop is shot.

LibraryGryffon | July 31, 2013 at 8:57 am

Now if that $4.1M were to be required to be taken out of the current year’s operating budget, with no excess given for the year and no increase to cover it next year, they might start getting the idea without it costing us taxpayers extra…

so has the present DOJ sued states DEAs for enforcing federal drug laws?
if a state cannot enforce immigration laws….

Am I the only one who wonders how many others have died like this?

I am sure it simplifies things. Then the Feds only have to dispose of the body.

thorleywinston | July 31, 2013 at 9:59 am

There appears to be more to the story, according to NBC’s San Diego’s affiliate this individual was apparently not searched thoroughly(no body cavity or strip search) by the DEA when they took into custody and he took meth while he was in the cell. Which could mean that much of is trauma was caused by his tweaking out.


    rantbot in reply to thorleywinston. | July 31, 2013 at 10:51 am

    How many red herrings may be swimming through there hardly matters. ANY human locked in a room without water would be at death’s door after five days, even under otherwise optimal conditions.

    You think the DEA just popped a kid in a cell without searching him thoroughly, i.e., turn and cough. I find that to be absurd – sounds like CYA of the most dishonest kind.

    sequester in reply to thorleywinston. | July 31, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Chong says he found methamphetamine in a blanket in the cell and ingested it to stay alive. He was handcuffed, in an 10×5 cell with no food or water for four to five days. According to Wikipedia a “human being can survive an average of three to five days without the intake of water”.

    If anything, under the extreme circumstances he faced, the methamphetamine helped keep his organs from completely shutting down. To suggest that methamphetamine ingestion mitigated his damages is downright cruel.

    There is no excuse for what happened. That’s why there was a 4.1 million settlement. That’s why the DEA apologized within a week. That’s why the DEA paid his substantial hospital bill which included ICU care without being prompted.

    Tomblvd in reply to thorleywinston. | July 31, 2013 at 11:46 am


The DEA along with the BATFE and half a dozen other alphabet soup agencies should be disbanded.

    Spiny Norman in reply to Harperman. | August 1, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I’ve been saying that since the Waco Branch Davidian fiasco. The HUD/Fannie Mae Housing Bubble only confirmed it.

Richard Aubrey | July 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm

For one of the multitudinous fed law enforcement agencies to fess up this fast, apologize without qualification, and settle without a fight, this has to be worse than it looks.
I mean, look how little they cared for effing up at Ruby Ridge and Waco. The defense was the “civilians” had it coming.

I have read two headlines, both having a distinction I believe is important. Did the DEA “Settle a 4.1 Million Dollar Lawsuit” or did they settle a lawsuit “For 4.1 Million”?

See the distinction? I think the government would have required a confidentiality agreement in making a payout. I don’t think the kid got 4 mil.


    Phillep Harding in reply to Redneck Law. | July 31, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Ah, yes.

    “IRS gets $3.5mil, lawyer and plaintiff split the rest”?

      Did you know that proceeds from a tort action are not taxable? The theory is that the amount received as damages compensate you for a loss, therefore you have not “profited” from the incident.

      I agree that the attorney probably walked away with at least 30% of the award. Now, the IRS is gonna get its hands on a portion of that scratch, fo sho.

healthguyfsu | July 31, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Drinking your own urine does NOT help you survive.

That’s it? “Whoops! Sorry! Here’s some money. Now shut up and go away.”

How many people have lost their jobs over this? How many have been charged with, oh, I don’t know, something including the words, “depraved indifference to human life?”

Trimaransailor57 | August 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm

The Federal Government – i.e. all of the “alphabet Soup” agencies… DEA, FBI, IRS, DHS, DOE, HHS, DoEd, BATFE, etc., are clearly corrupt and/or filled with corrupt and incompetent individuals. When these fools/jackass control-freaks and low-grade morons make big mistakes, they are protected for the most part. When the supervisors, dept. heads, directors, etc. screw up, they are not only protected, they are often rewarded with bonuses and promotion for misdeeds and mistakes. I think that when they violate people’s rights, abuse citizens, etc. Any settlements should be paid out of the personal funds of the offending agents/officers. At least the first $250k. If an Agent knew he was to be held Personally responsible he would take a little more care. In addition, very few offending Federal Workers/Agents are ever fired for stupid mistakes or ever prosecuted for actual assaults or other crimes. When the government Agents go to the wrong address for a no-knock drug raid, kill the family pet, trash the house, terrorize the citizens including physical abuse and threatening them with death (as in having a loaded assault rifle or submachine gun aimed at your head) the offending agents never even acknoledge their mistake. You take them to court, the government rigged court throws out the case as the Federal Government is “Sovereign”, which is BS. The Agents that swear out a warrent, then find nothing, should be fired and lose all pay and retirement benefits. When they are so stupid that they go to the wrong address, they should also be fired – and then jailed for commiting a terroristic act on an innocent citizen under color of law. Only when the Federal Government Agents, Officers and workers are held personally liable for wreckless behavior, criminal behavior and just plain stupidity – where they lose their job, and have to pay for their own lawyer and then pay for a lions share of any damage awards out of their own assets, will the madness be brought under control.