In 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested a man named Daniel Chong, didn’t charge him with a crime, and threw him in a 5 ft. by 10 ft. holding cell, where agents promptly forgot about him for five days. With no food or water, Chong drank his own urine to survive. His lawyer says Chong was several hours away from death. But the feds who held Chong captive were barely punished. In a letter to Congress, the Justice Department says DEA’s treatment of Chong was “unacceptable,” the LA Times reports.
Further, the Department of Justice’s own investigation into Chong’s case concluded that “the DEA’s failure to impose significant discipline on these employees further demonstrates the need for a systemic review of DEA’s disciplinary process.”
The feds swept up Chong, along with several other people, on April 21, 2012 at an unofficial 4/20 party. Chong was then a 23-year-old engineering student at UC San Diego, and an admitted pot smoker. Though other people at the celebration were charged with crimes, Chong was not. That didn’t stop the feds from throwing him in a cage anyway.
Over the course of the next several days, DEA agents held Chong “in total isolation with his hands handcuffed behind his back in a windowless cell with no bathroom, calling out periodically for help. Midway through the ordeal someone turned off the light in his cell, leaving him in darkness,” reports the LA Times.
Despondent, Chong tried to eat his broken glasses in an attempt to kill himself.
Five days after the DEA incarcerated Chong, a DEA worker finally heard his screams and went to check on him. Finally, agents let him out of the cage they’d assigned him to. Chong spent the next three days in an intensive care unit.
The Drug Enforcement Administration settled with Chong for $4.1 million, but the agency’s Board of Professional Conduct gave relatively minor punishments to the agents responsible for Chong’s wrongful imprisonment. According to the LA Times, the board “issued four reprimands to DEA agents and a suspension without pay for five days to another. The supervisor in charge at the time was given a seven-day suspension.”
Michele Leonhart, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, announced her retirement April 22 — partly because of reports that DEA agents who partied with sex workers in Columbia received relatively minor reprimands from supervisors for their exploits. Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. ordered a review of DEA disciplinary procedures.
“The Department of Justice has serious concerns about the adequacy of the discipline that DEA imposed on its employees,” in the Chong case, Patrick Rodenbush, a Department of Justice spokesman, says in a statement reported by the LA Times.
Patrick Rodenbush further says the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility “will make recommendations on how to improve the investigative and disciplinary processes for all allegations of misconduct at DEA.”