Police Abuse

DEA Agents Left Daniel Chong Abandoned in Holding Cell, Justice Department Confirms

|

Daniel Chong
YouTube

Caught up in a drug bust on April 21, 2012, but never charged with any crimes, Daniel Chong was detained by Drug Enforcement Administration agents who left him handcuffed in a cell, without food or water, for five days, the U.S. Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) confirms. Although several DEA agents noticed his presence, they assumed somebody else was responsible for him. Chong survived by drinking his own urine before being discovered by DEA personnel unconnected to his arrest and transported to a hospital for much needed medical treatment.

From the report summary:

As part of our  investigation, the OIG attempted to determine which DEA employees may have  come into contact with Chong during his detention for  5  days at  SDFD and how a detainee could be left in a holding cell and forgotten about for so long. The OIG concluded that the SDFD holding cell area lacked any recordkeeping methods to track detainee movements.  Additionally, although there was video coverage of the holding cell area, the individual cells did not contain cameras, and the single video camera that was present could only be monitored by an employee  not in the holding cell  area, and that employee was not assigned solely to holding cell duties and had many other responsibilities. There also was no official DEA policy or training regarding the operation of the holding cell area, and no requirement that DEA personnel check the holding cells at the end of a day to ensure that all detainees had been properly processed, either for arrest  or release. Moreover, DEA personnel were not required to sign—in and sign—out of the detention  area, and there were no reliable electronic entry records for the relevant period because the door locking mechanism at the entrance to the detention area was not functioning properly. Accordingly, the OIG was not able to identify from electronic entry records or logs DEA  personnel that entered the hold ing cell area during Chong's detention.

We were  able to identify four employees who had seen or heard Chong during the period of his detention. However, the employees  told us there was nothing unusual about their encounters  with Chong in the detention c ell. Additionall y, all four employees told  us t hey assumed that  whoever had placed Chong in the cell would return shortly to process him.

The DEA's San Diego Field Division not only had no system in place for monitoring the status of prisoners, the report notes, but officials apparently tried to manage the aftermath of Chong's mistreatment without notifying higher-ups or the OIG. That might be interpreted by a suspicious mind as a panic-driven attempted cover-up.

The OIG concluded that in addition to the three case agents, a DEA supervisor was responsible for the safe handling and welfare of all detainees during the narcotic enforcement operat ion on April 21, and was also accountable for Chong's extended detention. As the on—scene commander in the holding and detention area, the supervisor should have ensured that all detainees, including Chong, were either released or charged at the conclusio n of the investigative operation on April 21. His failure to do so resulted in Chong's unjustified detention and his need for significant medical treatment.

We further found that this same DEA supervisor violated DEA policy and showed poor judgment by initiating an investigation of the incident without management's approval in the immediate aftermath of Chong being discovered in the holding cell, and by assigning two of the case agents—the two task force officers—to conduct the processing of Chong 's holding cell for evidence. This action was a violation of DEA policy that requires field divisions to notify DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) of alleged misconduct so that the OIG can determine whether OIG or DEA OPR will investigate the allegations.

The report refers to Chong cutting himself with his broken glasses. Chong himself has said he attempted to carve a last message to his mother into his arm in his desperation.

Chong subsequently won a $4.1 million settlement against the Justice Department. The report summary refers to "recommendations" made in the incident, but no specifics about disciplinary action for the agents and supervisors who left a prisoner shackled and without food and water.

NEXT: John Stossel on the Virtues of Slow News

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. DEA Agents Left Daniel Chong Abandoned in Holding Cell, Justice Department Confirms

    There was doubt?

    1. They needed the time to figure out if they could blame Chong for locking himself in their facility. Turns out even the DEA doesn’t think America is that dumb.

      1. Turns out even the DEA doesn’t think America is that dumb.

        Damn, I bet America would’ve bought that story.

        1. Prolly here illegally anyways….

      2. They needed the time to figure out if they could blame Chong for locking himself in their facility.

        You can still see the outlines of the attempted coverup:

        …the door locking mechanism at the entrance to the detention area was not functioning properly.

    2. Of course. All agents of the state recieve the benefit of the doubt. Us peons? Well, we get our dogs shot.

  2. Without firings, it’s all meaningless.

    But what difference, at this point, does it make?

  3. Reason #4,135,212 to disband the DEA.

    1. I’d say it’d make more sense to list reasons for its continued existence. Lot less writing.

      1. Reasons for the DEA to exist:

        1…….

        1. Yeah, I’m drawing a blank too.

        2. Thugs need jerbs?

        3. Jerbs!

  4. And no one will be held accountable for this. Sorry but paying this poor bastard a bunch of taxpayer money doesn’t cut it. The people who did this are not as far as I can see being held in any way accountable. Moreover, I see no reason to believe this won’t happen again in the future.

    Paying the victim is at best partial justice. You have to punish the guilty as well.

    1. How can they be punished? They acted within procedures and according to their training! Unless you can point to a specific procedure or piece of training that they did not follow, then they did nothing wrong!

      1. And even if they did, the answer would be more training, not punishment.

      2. Is it really fair to punish a person for not spending a few seconds to glance into every holding cell before calling it a day? Just how much do you want from these public servants?

        1. I’m positive that someone looked in there, saw the guy, and walked off smiling in the knowledge that the poor guy would be starving, dehydrated, and covered in his own filth by the time anyone found him. People work in jails because they are cruel.

    2. They should take a proportionate cut out of the salary of every member of the department. Make it show up like as another payroll tax deucted from their paycheck.

      That’ll get the cops to self-police…real quick.

      (maybe)

      1. The people in charge should go to prison and everyone who knew about this situation and didn’t do any thing should have their careers end.

  5. Paying the victim is at best partial justice. You have to punish the guilty as well.

    Personally, if I were in the situation, I’d forego money in favor of actual justice.

    1. I would think 5 days in the stocks in the town square without food or water would do the trick.

      1. And instead of drinking their own urine, the people can walk up and piss into their mouths.

        1. I would go on an all asparagus and stout diet for a week for that.

      2. The key to public punishment was shaming, and too few people in the modern town square believe that anyone specifically should be punished for institutional screw-ups like this.

        1. It is. And it is why you should really hate the media. The media refusing to cover these cases and thus prevents the agents from being shamed. A decent media would cover this story to death and be outside of the homes of the agents responsible asking questions.

          1. Six years ago, under a Republican administration, they would have. And they’d have asked Dana Perino to comment on it, because when the GOP holds the White House, executive branch bureaucracies fall under their purview. When the Dems hold it, the news media informs the president about the scandals.

    2. I’d take the $4.1 million, no point in holding out for some actual justice.

  6. More disturbing: have they found Cheech yet?

      1. Man

  7. Mistakes were made; they just sort of happen when no one is looking, so they’re going to blame no one.

    1. No mistakes were made. They followed procedure. Procedure needs to be updated. Mistakes? Nope. None.

      1. Plus they were experiencing technical problems so they obviously need more funding.

        1. I hate that you brought that up because that’s exactly what they’re going to say.

      2. Lessons were learned.

    2. Exactly and what sarcasmic said above. Everyone thought it was someone else’ job to do something with this kid and no one gave a shit enough to take any interest in seeing what is going on.

      Ultimately, someone was the last to leave that that place and left knowing some poor bastard was locked in the back but didn’t give a shit because he wasn’t their responsibility. And the assholes who locked him up didn’t give a fuck what happened to him afterwards because it wasn’t their job.

      Moreover, someone was in charge overall and responsible for things running smoothly. Even if you let the various drones off the hook, you can’t let that person off the hook for creating a system that allowed this to happen.

      This case is an example of real criminal negligence. In any kind of a just society, people, most likely the managers in charge, would be going to jail over this. Indeed, if this had happened due to the negligence of a private company, they would be going to jail.

      1. When you marry the bystander effect to government bureaucracy this is what you get.

        1. I did detainee ops overseas. I can tell you my biggest fear in doing it was losing track of someone. Any system that deals with prisoners is designed to ensure accountability. You have to know where they all are at any given time and what physical condition they are in. From a self preservation standpoint, you don’t want people escaping or to get blamed for some physical condition they had when you took responsibility for them.

          If the Army had done this to someone at Abu Garib, it would have been an international scandal and multiple people would have gone to prison and many others saw their careers ruined. The DEA did it in America to an American and not a single fucking person will ever be held accountable or in any way see their careers effected.

          The Taliban who are captured in Afghanistan are treated better and the people who capture them held to a higher standard of behavior than Americans who are taken in by cops. That is fucking disgraceful.

      2. You can’t even imagine the unholy shitstorm that would break over people’s heads in my hospital if we had any kind of patient neglect and the people on the unit said “I thought it was somebody else’s job.”

        Somebody would have to pull our CEO off of any employee who said that. And it wouldn’t be me, because I’d be out front building the gibbet to hang them from.

        1. I can totally imagine it. Really only cops could be this fucking stupid and vicious.

        2. patient neglect and the people on the unit said “I thought it was somebody else’s job.”

          Happens in the UK all the time. Then again, those are government hospitals.

  8. Locked in a cell for five days with no water, never charged with a crime, and the people who did it aren’t in prison? 4.1 million dollars will buy a metric fuck-ton of revenge.

    1. Ten percent of that would put out a contract on all the DEAscum involved.

  9. Yes, he will get a sizable settlement, but after paying a fine for consuming non-union urine, he’ll break even.

    1. I mean, who does he think he is drinking unpasteurized urine?

  10. Sounds like some prettycrazy smack to me dude.

    http://www.AnonToolz.tk

  11. Private employees: five incompetent people mismanage a situation, five get fired because blame is given to all of them. Action outside of explicit duties is expected.

    Public employees: five incompetent people mismanage a situation, no-one is fired because blame cannot be pegged on one person. Action outside explicit duties isn’t expected.

    You can always compartmentalize responsibility so that blame travels up the chain to “supervision” or “policy-making” and the principal is liable. But in the case of the government, the principal never actually has to pay.

    1. Ultimately someone is in charge and created the system whereby people ignored this. They need to go to jail.

      1. Who jails the jailors?

      2. I agree, but that won’t be how this plays out. Low-level mistakes are for “firing”; low level mistakes originating in higher level places are for “policy-changing”, since the mistake is spread across responsibility levels. And in the case of public employees, their responsibility ends at their list of duties, which themselves are defined by policy. So no-one is responsible, not even supervisors, so long as some portion of blame can be passed up.

        1. You are correct in that is how it works. It is just monstrous that it is like that.

      3. I can’t entirely agree with you on this. Yes, whoever is in charge should go to jail (won’t but should). But, its for creating a system where thought, decision and judgement are so thoroughly removed from the system. You can never create a flawless system of robot like actions that won’t break down at some point or under some conditions (and if you could, the only logical response would be to automate the process). That means you have to encourage those under you to think and use some modicum of judgement.

        1. I was just arguing that even if you do give the drones the benefit of t he doubt, the people in charge should still go to jail. I don’t give them that benefit. Everyone officer there had an affirmative obligation for the welfare of any prisoner held there. And I would hold every single one of them who knew he was there and did nothing, responsible in some fashion. I might not send them all to jail. But every one of them would be fired or see their careers effectively ended.

          1. Responsibilities, duties and obligations are for peons. Powers, privileges and status are for Overlords.

    2. Just one edit, Sunny.

      Action outside explicit duties isn’t expected permitted.

      1. When I was a Fed employee for the Navy, my buddy almost got transferred (only drug use was firable) for turning a fully isolated ship valve during testing which, according to policy, only a certain sailor could do. That sailor was more than an hour away and would have pushed testing to the next day. It was more irresponsible to take the matter into his own hands than delay testing for four hours on a vessel costing several hundred thousand dollars a day to keep dry-docked.

        1. But the people who nearly transferred your buddy are heroes! Why do you hate our brave heroes?

  12. Chong subsequently won a $4.1 million settlement against the Justice Department taxpayers.

    FTFY

  13. We further found that this same DEA supervisor violated DEA policy and showed poor judgment by initiating an investigation of the incident without management’s approval in the immediate aftermath of Chong being discovered in the holding cell…

    Looks like someone is about to get a promotion!

    1. Initiating an investigation without consulting with higher-ups on how to hide the ashes? Insubordination – finally, something firable!

    2. Obviously some one involved in this needs to be promoted. Then they can write a better policy( like, don’t commit war crimes against US civilians as an example). Then the problem will be solved forever. What are you anarchist bitching about?

  14. this is what single payer looks like.

  15. This guy is super creepy. He drank his own pee and tried to cut a message into his own body after only 5 days? Comeon!

  16. Yeah, and he was getting ready to cut his own leg off to escape Oh, wait. That was a different guy.

  17. Though abuses such as this happen in all jurisdictions and agencies, we can rely upon Reason to point them out when it involves the DEA.

  18. but no specifics about disciplinary action for the agents and supervisors who left a prisoner shackled and without food and water.

    Did the brave drug warriors make it home safe?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.