DEA Issues Suspensions to Agents for Negligence

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued suspensions and reprimands in March to agents responsible for leaving a handcuffed UCSD student in a cell for five days without food or water. The agency suspended its supervisory special agent for seven days without pay, one special agent for five days without pay and delivered letters of reprimands to four other agents.

According to ABC 10 News, the U.S. Department of Justice is concerned that the DEA’s punishments are insufficient and that the organization may need to revise its disciplinary process.

U.S. Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.) expressed his disappointment with the punishments in a May 6 press release. 

“Four reprimands and two short suspensions do not amount to justice for Mr. Chong and his family,” Lieu said in the press release. “The current DOJ solution to this matter — a review of DEA internal disciplinary process — is simply not good enough.”

Lieu also announced that he is going to send a letter to the DOJ requesting that it further investigate the DEA and the student’s imprisonment itself.

“I will be sending a letter shortly to formally request that the Department of Justice conduct a full civil rights investigation into the apparent denial of Mr. Chong’s civil and constitutional rights by the DEA,” Lieu said. “Those who perpetrated this abuse must be held accountable, and a message must be sent that these kinds of actions cannot [and] must not happen again.”

The student’s lawyer, Gene Iredale, also thinks the repercussions for the agents do not match the pain that his client suffered during those five days.

“The only thing lacking is appropriate accountability. When police officers act in a way that’s inhumane, grossly reckless [or] cause pain and harm and near-death to somebody, … it [needs to] be treated seriously,” Iredale told ABC 10 News. 

The DEA apprehended 23-year-old Daniel Chong and eight others at an apartment in University City for drug possession on April 21, 2012. The agency then took seven of them to the county jail, released one and accidentally left Chong in a 5-foot-10-inch windowless holding cell at the DEA office.

Chong told officials that, during those five days, he had to drink his own urine for hydration and consumed some powder that he found in the cell, which turned out to be methamphetamine. By the third day, he said that he started hallucinating and was “completely insane.” At one point, he broke one of the lenses in his glasses and attempted to commit suicide by slitting his wrists with the shards and swallowing them. 

Agents finally discovered Chong on April 25, and he was immediately hospitalized. Doctors treated him for dehydration, near-kidney failure and a perforated lung from eating the broken glass. Chong’s attorney filed a $20-million claim against the DEA but settled for $4.1 million on July 30, 2013.

Shortly after Chong’s release, A.S. Council passed a resolution denouncing the DEA’s detention of Chong and urging the chancellor at the time to take a position on the issue.