Pubdate: Thu, 03 May 2012
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2012 The New York Times Company
Author: Ian Lovett


LOS ANGELES - By his own admission, Daniel Chong planned to spend 
April 20 like so many other college students: smoking marijuana with 
friends to celebrate an unofficial holiday devoted to the drug.

But for Mr. Chong, the celebration ended in a Kafkaesque nightmare 
inside a San Diego Drug Enforcement Administration holding cell, 
where he said he was forgotten for four days, without food or water.

To survive, Mr. Chong said he drank his own urine, hallucinated and, 
at one point, considered how to take his own life. By the time agents 
found him on the fifth day and called paramedics, he said he thought 
he could be dead within five minutes.

"By that time, I'd accepted that I would probably die there," Mr. 
Chong, a 23-year-old student at the University of California, San 
Diego, said Wednesday, three days after his release from the hospital.

A spokeswoman for the D.E.A. said the case was under investigation, 
but confirmed that Mr. Chong had been "accidentally left in one of 
the cells" from April 21 until April 25, and that he had not been 
charged with a crime.

In a written statement on Wednesday, William R. Sherman, the acting 
special agent in charge of the D.E.A. in San Diego, said he was 
deeply troubled by what happened.

"I extend my deepest apologies to the young man," he said.

On April 20, a Friday, Mr. Chong had gone to get high at a friend's 
house, in the so-called 4/20 ritual that sprang from a group of 
Northern California teenagers in the 1970s who liked to smoke 
marijuana at 4:20 p.m. The next morning, the D.E.A. raided the house. 
Agents found about 18,000 pills identified as MDMA, or Ecstasy, along 
with other drugs and weapons, according to the D.E.A., and Mr. Chong 
was detained, along with eight others.

The suspects were taken to the D.E.A. offices, where they were 
interviewed. Then seven of the suspects were taken to the county 
detention center, and one was released. Mr. Chong said the agents 
told him on Saturday, April 21, that he, too, would be released, and 
put him in a holding cell to wait for them to take him home.

"That door never opened again until Wednesday," he said.

Instead, Mr. Chong was left alone in the 5-by-10-foot holding cell, 
with no food, no sink and no toilet - only a blanket. He said he 
could hear footsteps as agents walked by, other cell doors opening 
and toilets flushing. He kicked the door, screaming for water. But no one came.

After the first two days, Mr. Chong said, he began to hallucinate, 
imagining "little Japanese cartoon characters telling me what to do." 
He clawed at the walls, convinced that they contained messages about 
where to find water.

Three times he drank his own urine. The only sustenance he had, he 
said, was a packet of white powder that he found wrapped in the 
blanket, which turned out to be methamphetamine.

On the fourth day, he said, the lights in the cell went out. 
Eventually, his hands still cuffed behind his back, he broke his 
eyeglasses with his teeth, as he contemplated killing himself. On his 
arm, he tried to carve a message: "Sorry Mom." He also swallowed a 
piece of the glass, which cut his esophagus.

When agents discovered him on the afternoon of April 25, paramedics 
took him to a hospital, where his lawyers said he remained for five 
days while he was treated for kidney failure, severe dehydration and 
a perforated esophagus.

Eugene Iredale, one of Mr. Chong's lawyers, said he planned to file a 
claim against the federal government, and, if that is denied, a lawsuit.

"How they failed to realize he was there or ignored him is beyond 
comprehension," Mr. Iredale said.
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