A young Californian student was preparing yesterday to file a $20million (£12m) suit against the federal government after he was left in a windowless cell by drugs enforcement agents for four days without food or water to the point where he had to drink his own urine to stay alive.
Daniel Chong, a 23-year-old engineering student at the University of California, San Diego, was among seven suspects taken into custody on 20 April after a sweep of a private home by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). They seized weapons as well as 18,000 ecstasy pills and other drugs. Taken to the DEA's San Diego headquarters the suspects were handcuffed, interviewed and over several hours rotated between different cells. Mr Chong was told early in the process he was not going to be charged with any crime. He was returned to one of the cells on the understanding he would be released quickly.
It appears, however, that at that point the agents simply forgot about him. Increasingly desperate over the ensuing four days in the 5ft by 10ft cell he ripped off some of his clothes to try to build a platform to reach the fire alarm in a vain effort to set it off. To stave off dehydration he began drinking his urine. He also ingested a white powder he claimed he found in the cell that turned out to be methamphetamine. He began hallucinating thinking he could see Japanese cartoon characters in the cell with him.
The DEA has acknowledged that Mr Chong was abandoned and has launched an inquiry. As soon as he was found, he was admitted to an intensive-care unit suffering from kidney failure, dehydration, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He lost 15 pounds and remained in care for several days. Lawyers for the student claim what happened to him amounted to torture. In preparation of a formal lawsuit, they have filed an initial notice to the DEA they intend to claim $20m damages.
There doesn't appear to be a precedent for a person being held in such extreme conditions in a US facility.
"I just couldn't believe this was legal," Mr Chong said in an interview with Associated Press. Towards the end, he thought of ways to kill himself. "I thought this was a terrible way to go," he said.
The DEA said it planned to "review the events and detention procedures on 21 April and after". Mr Chong said he had not had an apology from the agency.