A student at UC San Diego was rounded up in a drug bust then left in a DEA holding cell for five days without food or water, after officers apparently forgot he was in there. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested nine people and confiscated large amounts of pills, marijuana, and weapons during a raid near the UCSD campus on April 21. One of them, Daniel Chong, was eventually told that he was not being charged and would be allowed to go home, but after being returned to his cell to await release, no one ever came back for him. He was locked in the 5-foot by 10-foot room with no windows and no toilet from Saturday to Wednesday before he was discovered, 15 pounds lighter and totally incoherent.
Chong says he heard people in nearby rooms, but his cries for help went unheeded. As things got more desperate, he tried to drink his own urine and eventually tried to kill himself with the glass from his own eyeglasses. Chong spent three days in intensive care, where nurses said that he had apparently swallowed the glass, damaging his throat and lungs.
The only other thing that Chong had to ingest was a bag of methamphetamine that he apparently found in his cell.
A DEA spokesperson confirmed that Chong was "accidentally" left in a cell, but has not offered an apology or further explanation. The fact that he was never formally processed probably contributed to his being lost in the system. Chong's lawyer says they will file a complaint with the government, and if that goes nowhere, eventually a lawsuit.
The story is reminiscent of Nicholas White, a New York man who in 1999 was trapped in an elevator in a Manhattan high rise for an entire weekend. He went crazy after just 41 hours and according to a memorable article in The New Yorker, White lost his job, his friends, and his settlement money and was still unemployed and haunted by the experience years later. You can only imagine how being lost in the criminal justice system, seemingly forever, might effect Chong over the long term.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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