By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A California university student who was mistakenly left handcuffed in a cell without food or water for five days and survived by drinking his own urine is planning to sue, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Daniel Chong, an engineering student at the University of California at San Diego, ended up hospitalized for five days after being left unattended in one of three cells at a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in San Diego last month, his lawyer, Julia Yoo, said.
Chong, 23, was taken to the DEA office after he was rounded up with several other people in a drug raid on April 21 at the home of a friend where he had spent the night, Yoo said.
She said her client was cleared of any wrongdoing and agents told him they would put him in a holding cell for just a minute before driving him home.
When he was found in the cell by DEA staff after five days, he was still conscious, but dazed and hallucinating. Yoo said Chong had became so desperately thirsty he drank his own urine, and doctors are concerned about possible kidney damage.
"He had Japanese cartoon characters telling him where to find water," she said, referring to the hallucinations. "Daniel is a very strong person, but he is certainly not recovered from his ordeal."
The DEA issued a statement apologizing for the apparent oversight but offering little in the way of further details or explanation.
Yoo described Chong's holding cell as a 5-by-10-foot cubicle with no water or toilet. He started out with his wrists handcuffed behind his back but managed to wriggle his arms back to the front of his body during his captivity.
Yoo also confirmed a DEA statement that Chong had found a bag of white powder in the cell and ate its contents, which tests later proved to be methamphetamine. The DEA statement did not say what the bag of drugs was doing in the cell.
"That's a fantastic question to ask the DEA," Yoo said.
Chong arrived home from the hospital on Sunday but missed his final exams while detained, his lawyer said.
In a statement, William Sherman, the acting special agent in charge of the DEA's San Diego branch, said he was "deeply troubled by the incident."
"I extend my deepest apologies to the young man and want to express that this event is not indicative of the high standards that I hold my employees to," Sherman said. "I have personally ordered an extensive review of our policies and procedures."
The DEA statement said agents detained nine people including Chong during the raid and seized some 18,000 ecstasy pills, marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and prescription medicines, as well as firearms and ammunition.
It also said that Chong had admitted to agents at the time "that he was at the house to get high."
Yoo said her client was thankful to hospital nurses "who he truly believes saved his life," adding, "He is just grateful to be alive."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and David Brunnstrom)