San Diego, U.S. – A 25-year old college student reached a $4.1 million (N659,200,239) settlement with the U.S. federal government after he was abandoned in a windowless Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cell for more than four days without food or water, according to his attorneys.
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 one of his attorneys.
“It sounded like it was an accident – a really, really bad, horrible accident,” Chong said.
Chong was taken into custody during a drug raid and placed in the cell in April 2012 by a San Diego police officer authorized to perform DEA work on a task force.
The officer told Chong he would not be charged and said, ‘Hang tight, we’ll come get you in a minute.’
The door to the 5-by-10-foot cell did not reopen for 4½ days.
Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the settlement was reached for $4.1 million but declined to answer other questions.
Since attorney fees are capped at 20 percent of damages and the settlement payment is tax-free, Chong will collect at least $3.2 million (N514,497,747).
Chong 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. His attorneys acknowledged Chong was there to consume marijuana.
Chong and eight other people were taken into custody but authorities decided against pursuing charges against him after questioning.
Chong 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. He also stacked a blanket, his pants and shoes on a bench and tried to reach an overhead fire sprinkler, futilely swatting at it with his cuffed hands to set it off.
Chong said he accepted the possibility of death. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them and used a shard of glass to try to carve “Sorry Mom” onto his arm so he could leave something for her. He only managed to finish an “S”.
“I didn’t just sit there quietly. I was kicking the door yelling,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency. “I even put some shoestrings, shoelaces through the crack of the door for visual signs. I didn’t stay still, no, I was screaming.”
Five or six people found him covered in his feces in the cell at the DEA’s San Diego headquarters.
“All I wanted was my sanity,” Chong said. “I wasn’t making any sense.”
Chong was hospitalized for five days for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He lost 15 pounds.
The incident prompted the head of the DEA to issue a public apology last May, saying he was “deeply troubled” by the incident.
Mr Chong’s lawyer said that as a result of the incident the DEA had introduced new policies for detention, including checking cells daily and installing cameras inside them.
Mr Chong, now an economics student at the University of California, says he plans to buy his parents a house.