When 4/20 Goes Wrong: The Daniel Chong Story

by: Aaron Leaf

Daniel Chong Photo Credit: edvantage.com

Daniel Chong
Photo Credit: edvantage.com

2 years ago on April 20, 2012. 23 year old UCSD Student, Daniel Chong was celebrating the traditional cannabis friendly holiday “4/20” at a friends apartment in the University City neighborhood in San Diego. The following morning DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents raided the apartment and seized marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and ecstasy pills. Chong and eight other people were transported to the DEA field office in the Kearny Mesa, where they were interrogated.

Seven of the nine detainees were then taken to county jail, one was released, and Chong was left in a holding cell at the DEA office, according to the DEA. Chong says he was told that he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and that he would be released and even given a ride home. He was placed in a 5 by 10 feet holding cell, his wrists bound in handcuffs. He was then left in the windowless cell for five days despite repeated cries for help. He could hear people walking around outside the room but could not get their attention. At one point the lights went off for several days. While locked up, he was starving and hallucinating. He claimed that, while incarcerated, he had to drink his own urine for hydration, and ingested some methamphetamine that he found under a blanket inside the cell in order to keep himself awake. He attempted suicide by breaking one of the lenses in his eyeglasses, slitting his wrists with the shards and swallowing them. By the time he was discovered on April 25, he was hallucinating and completely incoherent.

Upon his discovery on April 25, Chong was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital where he remained for five days, including three in the intensive care unit. He was treated for various problems including dehydration, near-failure of his kidneys, and a perforated lung from eating broken glass. He was never charged with any crime.

Attorneys for Chong filed a $20 million claim against the Drug Enforcement Administration, claiming that Chong’s treatment constitutes torture under the law and seeking damages for pain and suffering, future medical and psychiatric treatment, and loss of future earnings. On July 30, 2013 it was reported that Chong had settled his claim against the DEA for $4.1 million.

Nobody responsible for the incident has been disciplined, but the DEA has introduced national detention standards including daily inspections and cameras in cells.

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