Californian Daniel Chong, now 25, had to drink his own urine to survive after he was arrested for smoking pot

A Californian college student who was arrested for smoking cannabis and then abandoned and forgotten in a windowless prison cell for almost five days has been awarded a $4.1 million (£2.7 million) settlement by the US government.

Daniel Chong, 25, had to drink his own urine to survive and, beginning to hallucinate, broke his glasses and tried to carve a message to his mother into his own arm.

When he was eventually discovered he had lost 15lb (7kg) in weight and had to spend five days in hospital, where he was treated for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated oesophagus.

Mr Chong was originally told he would not be charged after he was taken into custody along with a group of friends caught smoking marijuana in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raid.

He was handcuffed and put in a 5-foot by 10-foot cell, with no windows, where an officer told him: “Hang tight, we’ll come get you in a minute.”

He told US media that he believed that for the whole of the first day, saying: “It just seemed impossible that they would forget me in there.”

Eventually he started screaming , kicking the cell door as hard as he could, and pushing shoelaces and ripped-up pieces of his jacket underneath the door all in a desperate bid to get someone’s attention.

His lawyers said that he heard footsteps outside, but no one responded to his calls for help.

He tried to break a fire sprinkler in the ceiling to get some water, but when that didn’t work he had to drink his own urine, and said that: “If it wasn’t for that I would’ve died.”

On the third day, with no food or water, Mr Chong started to hallucinate. He resigned himself to death, and in a hazy attempt to leave a message to his mother bit into his glasses and used the shards to carve into his own arm. He tried to write “Sorry mom”, but could only complete the “S”.

After more than four days passed, the door finally opened. Officers found Mr Chong lying on the floor covered in his own faeces. He says he can remember the shocked look on their faces.

In the wake of the ordeal in April 2012, the DEA issued a rare public apology and introduced a swathe of new national detention standards, including daily inspections and a requirement to have cameras in cells.

And Mr Chong, a student at the University of California San Diego, seemed to accept their contrition. He said: “The Department of Justice have shown me every step of the way that they did take it seriously, and their apology was sincere. I do see it as an accident. A grave one, but an accident nonetheless.”

The department and the DEA confirmed the $4.1 million settlement had been reached, but refused to answer any more questions as to exactly what went wrong.

Senator Charles Grassley, the most senior Republican on the US Judiciary Committee’s, renewed his call for an explanation. He said: “How did this incident happen? Has there been any disciplinary action against the responsible employees? And has the agency taken major steps to prevent an incident like this from happening again?”


The Independent