By Julie Watson, AP
SAN DIEGO — A college student picked up in a drug sweep in California was never arrested, never charged and should have been released. Instead he was forgotten about, left in a holding cell for four days and says he had to drink his own urine to stay alive.
Without food, water or access to a toilet, Daniel Chong began hallucinating on the third day.
He told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that he saw little Japanese-style cartoon characters that told him to dig into the walls to find water. Chong tore apart the plastic lining on the walls.
“I ripped the walls and waited for the room to flood for some reason,” said the 23-year-old University of California, San Diego, student, three days after he left the hospital where he was treated for dehydration and kidney failure. “I can’t explain my hallucinations too well because none of them make sense.”
Later he added, “I felt like I was completely losing my mind.”
Four days later, agents opened the door on a fluke and found him covered in his own feces, Chong said.
Chong’s attorneys filed a US$20 million claim Wednesday against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), saying his treatment constitutes torture under U.S. and international law. The US$20 million figure refers to the maximum Chong and his lawyers would seek.
“He nearly died,” said Chong’s lawyer, Eugene Iredale. “If he had been there another 12 to 24 hours, he probably would have died.”
The five-page notice, a required precursor to a lawsuit, was sent to the DEA’s chief counsel in Washington and cites damages for pain and suffering, future medical and psychiatric treatment, and loss of future earnings.
The top DEA agent in San Diego apologized Wednesday for Chong’s treatment and promised an investigation into how his agents could have forgotten about him. Worst Case of its Kind
The incident stands out as one of the worst cases of its kind, said Thomas Beauclair, deputy director of the National Corrections Institute, a federal agency that provides training and technical assistance to corrections agencies.
“That is pretty much unheard of,” he said, noting that, in his 40-year career, he has heard of instances where people were forgotten overnight but not for days.
A federal law enforcement official familiar with DEA operations said the agency’s protocols require that cells be checked each night. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the cell where Chong was held is not intended for overnight stays because it does not have a toilet. Went to Smoke Pot U-T San Diego was the first to report Chong’s ordeal.
Chong told the AP that he went to his friend’s house April 20 to get high. Every April 20, pot smokers light up in a counterculture ritual held around the country at 4:20 p.m.