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Student jailed without food, water reaches $4.1 million settlement with U.S. government

jail bars and cuffs
jail bars and cuffs

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A California university student who was left handcuffed in a federal holding cell for nearly 5 days without food or water has reached a $4.1 million settlement with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), his lawyers said on Tuesday.

Daniel Chong, who was rounded up along with eight other people in an April 21, 2012, drug raid at a San Diego area home, has said that he was forced to drink his own urine and nearly died after being placed in the cell and apparently forgotten.

After the ordeal, the 24-year-old student of the University of California, San Diego, spent five days in a San Diego hospital, three of them in intensive care. Last year, he filed a $20 million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against the DEA.

On Tuesday, his attorneys, Eugene Iredale and Julia Yoo, said they had settled that claim with the DEA for $4.1 million.

"To its credit, the government has responded by acknowledging responsibility, apologizing personally to Daniel and instituting changes in policies regarding safety checks for prisoners in temporary holding cells at DEA facilities," Iredale said. "What happened to Daniel Chong should never happen to any human being on the face of the planet."

A spokeswoman for the DEA said the agency was investigating the incident but referred calls regarding the settlement to the Department of Justice. A spokesman there could not immediately be reached for comment.

The DEA previously acknowledged that Chong had been accidentally left in a holding cell, and the head of the DEA's San Diego office said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled" by the incident.

Chong's lawyers have said that he was arrested at the home of friend during a raid by a drug enforcement task force investigating an ecstasy trafficking ring that included DEA agents, sheriff's deputies and San Diego police officers.

Iredale said that once authorities determined Chong was not part of the ring, a San Diego police officer put him in the 5-foot by 10-foot cell with his hands cuffed behind his back, telling him, "We'll come to get you in a minute."

Instead, Chong remained in the cell for four and a half days and by the time he was found he was suffering from severe dehydration, muscle deterioration, hallucinations, liver and kidney failure and extremely high levels of sodium, according to his attorneys. He lost 15 pounds during the ordeal.

The DEA said in a statement issued at the time that agents detained nine people including Chong during the raid and seized some 18,000 ecstasy pills, marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and prescription medicines, firearms and ammunition.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

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