Student Abandoned in DEA Cell for 5 Days to Sue for $20 Million

PHOTO: Daniel Chong appears at a news conference in San Diego where he discussed his detention by the DEA on May 2, 2012.PlayK.C. Alfred/U-T San Diego/Zuma Press
WATCH Student Forgotten in DEA Holding Cell

A 23-year-old California college student who was left in a dark federal detention cell for five days without food, water, or a toilet has filed a claim against the U.S. government for $20 million.

The lawyer for Daniel Chong, a senior at the University of California at San Diego, said his client was subjected to "torture" after Drug Enforcement Agency officers forgot he was placed in a holding cell, where he languished for nearly a week, drinking his own urine and contemplating his death.

The five-page claim is the first legally required step before filing a lawsuit, Chong's lawyer, Gene Iredale, told ABC News.

On Wednesday the DEA apologized to Chong and announced an investigation into the incident.

"I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here last week. 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. I have personally ordered an extensive review of our policies and procedures," William R. Sherman, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA office in San Diego, said in a statement.

Chong was arrested by federal agents on April 21, following a raid on a friend's house, where agents believe the drug Ecstasy was being dealt.

Chong and eight other suspects were arrested at the house, where agents allegedly found 18,000 Ecstasy pills as well as guns and ammunition. The nine were all taken to the DEA's office and booked. Seven suspects were taken to a county jail and another was released. Chong, however, was left in a holding cell and forgotten.

In an interview with KNSD-TV, an NBC affiliate, Chong, who spent five days in the hospital after agents finally discovered him, said he had kicked the cell door "many, many times" in an effort to alert agents to his presence.

Chong was ultimately brought to Sharp Memorial Hospital, suffering from severe dehydration and kidney failure. He spent three days in the intensive care unit.

Chong said he suffered extreme psychological distress during his detention. "I didn't care if I died," he said in an interview. "I was completely insane."

Chong was released from the hospital Sunday. According to his lawyer, he "is recovering, but still in a weakened state. He remains badly shaken, but is recovering his mental stability as rapidly as can be expected."

Iredale said Chong had spent the night of April 20, an unofficial holiday among marijuana users, at the house. Agents raided the following morning. Iredale said Chong had smoked pot, but denied his involvement in trading drugs.

The DEA confirmed that a white substance found in Chong's cell after he was discovered tested positive for methamphetamine. His lawyer said the drug was left in Chong's cell.

"This is an extraordinary story of incredible and inexplicable ineptitude, needless suffering and great courage in the face of something inconceivably ugly," Iredale told ABC News.

Iredale said the conditions in which Chong was held are tantamount to torture and the "pain he suffered goes beyond pain suffered by detainees suffered at Guantanamo or major figures who were waterboarded."