An Iowa lawmaker is demanding answers after six Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who left a man in a jail cell for five days with no food or water were given only reprimands and brief suspensions, The L.A. Times is reporting.
In 2012, then 23-year-old college student Daniel Chong was at a friend’s apartment in San Diego smoking pot when heavily-armed DEA stormed the apartment and took Chong and several other people into custody. Chong was taken to a DEA holding cell at the local DEA office and then forgotten about, according to Huffington Post.
Chong spent five days in the windowless DEA holding cell without food or water. He screamed several times for help as he heard people walking around in the building – his screams were unanswered. He drank his own urine to survive, and bit into his own glasses to carve a goodbye message to his mother in his arm.
Fortunately, Chong was found – dehydrated and near death – and taken to intensive care. He survived and eventually won a $4.1 million settlement from the DEA.
The six DEA agents responsible for Chong’s incarceration received only mild punishments, the most severe of which was a seven-day suspension.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley demanded answers – answers that weren’t forthcoming, according to The Intercept.
“At what point do I have to conclude that the [DEA] is hiding something about what happened here?”
In fact, last August, Grassley sent a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart detailing 19 questions the Senator had regarding the events surround Chong’s incarceration; to this day he has received zero answers.
“It’s been now eight months — I still don’t have a response from DEA to these questions.”
DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne claims that the DEA gave such light punishments because the agency head is forbidden from doing anything more severe, according to Justice Department regulations.
Chong’s lawyer, Gene Iredale, isn’t satisfied with that explanation.
“In a situation where someone goes over four days without food and water and almost dies, some reprimands and a couple of brief suspensions are not proportionate to the danger that was caused by this misconduct. I cannot accept that the head of the agency was powerless to ensure there would be appropriate punishment meted out. It may be that the regime of Miss Leonhart created a culture of unaccountability.”
Michele Leonhart announced her early retirement as DEA head last month, following news that DEA agents involved in a prostitution scandal were also given only light punishments. Lawmakers are hoping the new DEA head will be given enough power to give agents more severe punishments for misconduct.
[Image courtesy of: Shutterstock/cunaplus]