DEA to Pay $4.1M to Marijuana Arrestee Forgotten in Cell

Last spring, Daniel Chong was a student studying engineering at the University of California in San Diego when he went to a house near campus to smoke some marijuana.

It was recreational, yes, and therefore illegal under both federal and state law.
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However, our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers know that what happened next, attributable at least in part to the blind aggression of the US. Drug Enforcement Administration, was unforgivable.

Chong was one of a number of people swept up in a DEA raid.

He was arrested and brought to the DEA facility in San Diego. There he was questioned for a time, and then told he would be released.

Instead, he spent five days trapped in a windowless, 5-foot-by-10-foot cell. He was without food or water. He screamed for help, and no one came. He kicked the door, he punched the walls. He tried to trigger the fire sprinkler. He took the shoelaces off his shoe and shoved them out the crack of the door – anything he could think of to reveal some visual cue to outsiders that he was still there.

On the third day, he began to hallucinate. He drank his own urine.

He broke his eye glasses by biting them and carved into his arm the words, “Sorry Mom.”

By the time he was found, he had lost 15 pounds. His kidneys were failing. He was covered in feces and urine. He was having trouble breathing. He was rushed to the hospital.

Officials with the DEA now say it was a “horrible accident.” They have offered an apology and launched an extensive review, which ultimately resulted in new procedures calling for cameras in all holding cells, which are now equipped with windows.

The federal government agency also declined to press charges and will now be paying him more than $4 million for the ordeal he suffered.

The case is extreme, but it reveals yet another near-casualty of this failed war on drugs.

In 2012, some 21,000 people were arrested on California marijuana charges, according to the latest figures released by the California Attorney General’s Office in its 2012 Crime Report.

The report revealed some 13,500 felony marijuana arrests, which represents a slight downward trend from what we saw in 2011, when felony marijuana arrests in California topped 14,000.

The most-arrested ethnic group were Hispanics, with nearly 5,000 felony marijuana arrests. They were followed by whites, with 4,600 arrests, blacks with more than 2,700 arrests and other races with more than 1,100 arrests.

Felony marijuana-related arrests of juveniles remained about the same, at around 1,675, accounting for about 12.5 percent of the total.

Misdemeanor marijuana arrests plummeted in 2011, following a new law that made possession of under an ounce an infraction, rather than a crime. Infractions aren’t tallied by the attorney general’s office.

Still, there were nearly 7,800 misdemeanor marijuana arrests in 2012, which was almost the same number as there were in 2011. Compare that to misdemeanor marijuana arrests in 2010 in California, which were nearly 55,000.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
DEA to pay $4.1 million to student forgotten in holding cell for 5 days, July 30, 2013, By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
Washington Medical Marijuana Supplier to Vets Gets Probation, Aug. 5, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Defense Lawyer Blog