A San Diego student who spent five days locked in a holding cell after agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) apparently forgot about him has sent a claim for $20 million in damages to the DEA’s general counsel in early May. The letter, a copy of which is not publicly available, may be a preliminary step to a formal lawsuit against the U.S. government. A lawsuit could claim negligence on the part of DEA agents, as well as civil rights violations, either of which would entitle the claimant to compensation for damages.
Daniel Chong, a 23 year-old student, was arrested during the early morning of Saturday, April 21, 2012, when he was attending a party at a friend’s house in celebration of “4/20,” an unofficial holiday celebrating marijuana. DEA agents reportedly raided the party and arrested Chong and several others. They took Chong to the local DEA office to be interviewed. Chong was told that he would be released that day, and he was taken to a five-by-ten-foot holding cell to wait for a ride home. No one came for Chong for five days.
Employees at the DEA office apparently forgot about Chong for five days. Chong had no food or water and no toilet, and his hands remained cuffed behind his back. He said that he could hear people outside and that he kicked at the door and screamed for help, but no one came. By the third day, he said he was hallucinating cartoon characters who spoke to him. He drank his own urine at least three times. He found a packet of white powder in a blanket, which he consumed, presumably thinking it might be food. He reportedly broke his glasses in an effort to commit suicide, going as far as trying to carve a message into his arm.
When DEA employees found him on Wednesday, April 25, Chong was suffering from kidney failure, dehydration, and perforations to his esophagus from using his teeth to break his glasses. The white powder he ate turned out to be methamphetamine. How it came to be in the cell remains a mystery.
Chong’s attorney sent a five-page letter demanding $20 million in damages to the DEA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Injury claims against the government usually begin with a written demand. The doctrine of sovereign immunity prohibits civil claims against the government unless the government consents to the suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act establishes procedures for making claims for damages against government entities. An initial demand must identify and describe the claim and state a demand for damages. If the government denies a properly-sent claim, the injured person may proceed to file a lawsuit in most cases.
The letter to the DEA reportedly includes claims that Chong’s treatment constitutes “torture.” He may also be making a claim for violations of his civil rights, known as a 1983 claim for the number of the statute. While these claims require proof of a violation of a constitutional right, the actual violations often include physical injuries with medical expenses and other damages similar to personal injury claims.
The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to assert their rights and recover their just compensation. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
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Students File Suit Against University and Police Over Pepper Spray Incident, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 29, 2012
Family of Maryland Man Who Died in Police Custody Dismisses Suit Against Police, May Still Sue Hospital, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 27, 2012
Investigations Have Yielded Few Answers So Far in UC Davis Pepper Spray Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 6, 2012