US student ‘forgotten’ in jail gets $4m settlement

25-year-old abandoned in a windowless cell for four days without food or water

Daniel Chong who was held in a windowless cell for four days without food or water

Daniel Chong who was held in a windowless cell for four days without food or water


A 25-year old college student abandoned in a windowless cell for more than four days without food or water has reached a $4.1 million settlement with the US government , his lawyers said.

He was held in a drug raid in 2012, but told he would not be charged. Nobody returned to his cell for four days.

Daniel Chong said he drank his own urine to stay alive, hallucinated that agents were trying to poison him with gases through the vents, and tried to carve a farewell message to his mother in his arm.

It remained unclear how the situation occurred and no-one has been disciplined, said Eugene Iredale, a lawyer for University of California San Diego student Mr Chong. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating.

“It sounded like it was an accident - a really, really bad, horrible accident,” Mr Chong said.

Mr Chong was taken into custody during a drugs raid in San Diego and placed in the cell in April 2012 by a police officer authorised to perform Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) work. The officer told Mr Chong he would not be charged and said: “Hang tight, we’ll come get you in a minute,” Mr Iredale said.

But nobody returned to his cell for four days.

US Justice Department spokeswoman Allison Price confirmed the settlement was reached for $4.1 million but declined to answer other questions.

Mr Chong said he planned to save and buy his parents a house.

He was a 23-year-old engineering student when he was at a friend’s house where the DEA found 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Mr Iredale acknowledged Mr Chong was there to smoke marijuana.

Mr Chong and eight other people were taken into custody, but authorities decided against pursuing charges against him after questioning.

He said he began to hallucinate on the third day in the cell. He urinated on a metal bench so he could have something to drink, stacked a blanket, his trousers and shoes on a bench and tried to reach an overhead fire sprinkler, trying with his cuffed hands to set it off.

Mr Chong said he accepted the possibility of death. He bit into his glasses to break them and used a shard of glass to try to carve “Sorry Mom” on to his arm so he could leave something for her. He only managed to finish an “S”.

He said he slid a shoelace under the door and screamed to get attention before five or six people found him covered in faeces in the cell.

“All I wanted was my sanity,” Mr Chong said. “I wasn’t making any sense.”

He spend five days in hospital with dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated oesophagus and had lost 15lbs.

The DEA issued a rare public apology at the time and introduced national detention standards as a result of the ordeal involving Mr Chong, including daily inspections and a requirement for cameras in cells, said Julia Yoo, one of his lawyers.

Senator Charles Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, renewed his call for the DEA to explain the incident.

“How did this incident happen? Has there been any disciplinary action against the responsible employees? And has the agency taken major steps to prevent an incident like this from happening again?” he said.