POLITICS
07/08/2014 08:11 pm ET | Updated Jul 10, 2014

DEA Officials Responsible For Nearly Killing College Student, DOJ Watchdog Finds

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WASHINGTON -- Four separate employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration saw or heard a college student who was left handcuffed in a holding cell without food or water for five days after he was supposed to be released, according to a newly released summary of an internal Department of Justice investigation. The employees told the DOJ Inspector General's Office that there was "nothing unusual" about their encounters with Daniel Chong -- even as he screamed, kicked the door, drank his own urine and tried to carve "sorry mom" into his arm with shards of glass.

Chong, a 23-year-old University of California, San Diego student at the time of the April 2012 incident, reached a $4.1 million settlement with the federal government in 2013.

He was supposed to be released the same day he was detained when his friend's house was raided. The DEA said it found Ecstasy, marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and weapons in the home. But Chong was told that law enforcement did not plan to charge him and that he would be released as soon as the paperwork was completed. It didn't work out that way.

When someone finally paid attention to Chong, he was incoherent and had to be taken to the hospital, according to the Associated Press.

Though the full version of the inspector general's report has not been released, a spokesman with the office said the summary was made public "in the interest of enhancing transparency in administrative matters, consistent with privacy considerations." The summary states that the failure of three agents assigned to the drug bust -- one DEA employee and two DEA task force officers -- to ensure that Chong was released from custody after deciding he would not be charged "resulted in Chong’s unjustified incarceration from April 21 to April 25, and his need for significant medical treatment."

The investigation found that a separate DEA supervisor was to blame for the incident as well. According to the summary, the supervisor "showed poor judgment" when he launched an inquiry into the matter without approval -- even assigning the two task force officers who had forgotten about Chong in the first place to process the holding cell for evidence.

Additionally, DEA management in the field and at headquarters "improperly initiated a review of the incident" before they notified the Inspector General's Office, a violation of DOJ and DEA policy that "could have caused harm to a potential criminal prosecution."

Nonetheless, the inspector general's investigation found the decision to decline prosecution in this case reasonable in view of all the facts and circumstances. It is not known what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against the unnamed officers and DEA officials.

Julia Yoo, a lawyer who represented Chong in his settlement with the agency, said the summary "highlights the unacceptable and appalling failings of DEA, both systemic and individual."

"We are gratified by the thorough and impartial investigation by the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] and pleased that what happened to Daniel will serve as an impetus for critical institutional changes," Yoo told The Huffington Post. "I would urge the OIG to release the entire investigation report for the sake of transparency."

In a statement, a spokeswoman with the DEA's San Diego division said the agency had adopted new policies to try to stop this from happening again.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration remains deeply troubled by the unfortunate incident surrounding Daniel Chong's detention at DEA's San Diego Division in April 2012," Amy Roderick said. "Immediately following the incident, DEA implemented a new agency wide policy for processing arrestees and detainees. These procedures closely mirror the OIG's recent recommendations, and include routinely inspecting holding cells, assigning an agent or task force officer to the holding area, and maintaining an occupancy ledger for holding cells. The DEA is confident that these measures will help to prevent similar incidents in the future."

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