DEA Says So Sorry You Had to Drink Your Urine

Daniel Chong suffered both drug war insanity and inmate brutality.

DEA agent holding captured marijuana
Federal agents have been cracking down on marijuana, especially in California. (Photo: John Gress / Reuters)
Matt Fleischer was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

As if the routine beatings and suicides in America’s county jail system weren’t bad enough, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) decided to jump headfirst into the systemic problem of inmate abuse and neglect in America by leaving a man locked away in a 5 by 10 holding cell with no food, water or human contact for five straight days.

Late last month, 24-year-old UC San Diego engineering student Daniel Chong went to his friend’s house in University City, California, to celebrate 4/20—the weed smoker’s international holiday of choice.

Agents left the room and didn’t return until five days later.

Unfortunately for Chong, who admitted to smoking pot that day, the DEA came knocking to break up the party—and discovered a cache of 18,000 ecstasy pills in the bust. Nine people were arrested. Chong, however, was not among them. But he was detained and taken to a DEA holding cell where he was questioned. Agents then left the room and didn’t return until five days later. In between, Chong was forced to drink his own urine to survive and, in a hallucinatory state, tried to kill himself with the broken shards of his eyeglasses.

At a recent press conference, Chong made it clear he wasn’t left in some isolated wing and simply forgotten about. “I kicked the door many, many times,” he said. “Even my [cell] neighbors were getting annoyed, telling me to shut up.”

Chong inexplicably found a few doses of methamphetamines inside his cell, and took them to stay awake and continue his screaming. He was finally found near-death by a DEA worker and taken to the hospital. His kidneys were on the verge of failing. After a three-day hospital stay, he was well enough to leave and announced that he plans to sue the federal government over his ordeal.

News broke of Chong’s near-death treatment last week. It took until yesterday for the DEA to issue their “deepest apologies.”

Chong’s horrific treatment aside, the very nature of the raid itself has drug reform advocates enraged.

“The DEA used their vast resources to break up a college 420 party,” Gale Gieringer, director of California NORML, tells TakePart. “That seems to me a tremendous trivialization of federal law.”

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, was equally appalled as he spoke at a recent press conference. “What happened to Daniel Chong is an inevitable consequence of a war on drugs that arrests and detains millions of people for drug law violations, most of them involving petty offenses.”

Chong is recovering from his ordeal. Legalization advocates are latching onto his story to illustrate the insanity of our federal drug policy. But Chong’s detention nightmare also highlights the abusive treatment of those who get trapped in the web of our corrections facilities.

Answer this in comments: Who was more at fault here? The DEA for raiding a college smoke out? The jailers for leaving Daniel Chong locked up and unattended for five straight days? Or Daniel Chong for smoking weed in the wrong place at the wrong time?

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