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Student left in cell for days by DEA suffers PTSD, gets $4.1 million

UC San Diego

A UC San Diego student who was forgotten in a Drug Enforcement Administration interrogation room for five days without food or water described the incident as a "really, really bad, horrible accident."

Daniel Chong, 25, will receive $4.1 million from the government to settle his claim.

For reasons that remain unclear, Chong was left for five days in a 5-by-10-foot windowless room without food, water or toilet facilities after being swept up in a campus raid on April 20, 2012. He quickly lost weight and was able to slip out of a pair of handcuffs.

He suffered hallucinations. He tried to break a fire sprinkler to get water but failed. Instead he said he had to drink his own urine to survive. He screamed for help but soon became too weak. 

DEA employees found him covered in his own feces and severely dehydrated. He was rushed to a hospital, close to kidney failure and breathing with difficulty. He spent five days in the hospital.

"I was screaming, I was completely insane," Chong said at the law offices of his attorney, Eugene Iredale.

Chong said he even put his shoelaces under the door hoping someone would see him and realize he was there.

When he was finally discovered about 100 hours later, he said five or six people crowded around him, "wondering who I am."

Iredale said Chong has undergone intensive psychotherapy and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

What happened to Chong, Iredale said, "should never happen to any human being on the face of the planet."

Days after he was found, a top DEA official apologized to Chong and ordered an "extensive review" of DEA procedures. That review has not yet been completed. 

"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," said William R. Sherman, who was then acting special agent in charge of the DEA's San Diego Division.

No charges were filed against Chong. Iredale filed a claim with the agency, usually the first step toward a lawsuit. But in this case, officials immediately began negotiating a settlement and listened to a local psychologist who said that Chong was in worse shape than many combat veterans he has treated, Iredale said.

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Twitter: @LATSanDiego

tony.perry@latimes.com

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