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Student forgotten in cell by DEA ‘glad to be alive,’ lawyer says

Daniel Chong

The attorney representing the 23-year-old UC San Diego student who reportedly drank his own urine to survive after being left in a Drug Enforcement Administration holding cell for five days without food or water said Wednesday his client was "glad to be alive."

San Diego attorney Eugene Iredale said Daniel Chong was still recovering after the incident, which resulted in a five-day stay at Sharp Hospital, including three days in the intensive care unit.

Iredale said he plans to file a lawsuit on Chong's behalf against the DEA and submitted initial paperwork today.

"He wants to make sure that what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else," Iredale said of Chong.

Identifying Chong only as "the individual in question," the DEA said the engineering student and eight others were swept up in an April 21 raid of a suspected Ecstasy distribution operation where agents found guns, ammunition and drugs. The nine were taken to DEA area headquarters, where they were fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed.

After processing, the DEA said, seven of the nine were taken to a county detention facility, one was released and Chong was "accidentally left in one of the cells."

When agents finally found Chong, the DEA said, he was taken to the hospital. Iredale said his client was close to kidney failure and was having trouble breathing by the time he was discovered. Chong also suffered hallucinations, Iredale said, and "thought he was going insane."

The DEA said Chong told agents he had been at the house that was raided "to get high with his friends" and that he later admitted using a white powdery substance found in his cell that tested positive for methamphetamine.

Iredale confirmed that his client had stayed with friends the night before the raid to "celebrate" April 20 — a day heralded by many marijuana aficionados — "in the typical way by smoking some pot." But, Iredale said, the meth found in the cell was there prior to Chong's arrival.

"The DEA's protocol was so sloppy that somebody who was a previous prisoner secreted a small amount of meth in a plastic bag inside a blanket," Iredale said.

Chong has not been charged. William R. Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the DEA's San Diego Division, said in a statement the agency planned to thoroughly review "both the events and the detention procedures on April 21st and after."

Sherman said he was "deeply troubled by the incident" and apologized to Chong.

"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," Sherman said.

Iredale said his client missed midterms while he was in the cell but school was not an immediate concern.

"He is still recovering," Iredale said. "He is glad to be alive."

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-- Kate Mather

Photo: UC San Diego student Daniel Chong was left in a Drug Enforcement Administration holding cell for five days without food or water. Credit: KTLA-TV

 
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