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DEA Agents Who Forgot A Man In A Cell For Days Got Off Easy

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The DEA agents who locked a college student alone in a windowless cell without food or water for five days because they forgot about him were hardly disciplined for their massive oversight.

According to a report from the Justice Department, the agents that abandoned 23-year-old Daniel Chong in a holding cell without food, water, or bathroom access were given lenient punishments, the L.A. Times reports. Four DEA agents were issued a reprimand, one was suspended for five days without pay, and the supervisor was suspended for seven days.

Daniel Chong, then a 23-year-old senior at UC San Diego, was arrested on April 21, 2012 during a drug bust. He'd gone over to a friend's place to smoke marijuana (on April 20, of course), fell asleep on the couch and woke up to a drug bust that yielded 18,000 ecstasy pills, among other contraband. Though it was determined that he was not involved in any of that and was told he'd be released, he was handcuffed and locked in a small, five-by-10 foot holding cell. Then, he was completely forgotten about for five days. Chong said he was forced to drink his own urine to survive, and also ate a powder in his cell that turned out to be methamphetamine. At one point, someone turned off the light in his cell, so he spent two of those days in total darkness. Chong said that he eventually began hallucinating, and that he tried to kill himself by breaking his glasses, carving 'sorry, mom' into his arm, and eating the shards.

When a delirious, dehydrated Chong was finally found, he was taken to a hospital where he remained for four days in treatment for respiratory issues, a punctured lung from eating glass and kidney failure. He then received extensive therapy for PTSD. He was eventually awarded a $4.1 million settlement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

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The Justice Department wrote a letter to members of Congress that called Chong's ordeal "unacceptable" and criticized the DEA's lack of punishment, saying that "the DEA's failure to impose significant discipline on those employees further demonstrates the need for a systemic review of DEA's disciplinary process."

Patrick Rodenbush, spokesman for the Department of Justice, said that the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility will be making recommendations to the DEA as to how they can better investigate alleged misconduct and discipline employees.

Last month, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart retired after outrage that she had only issued two- to 10-day suspensions for DEA agents who were caught attending Columbian sex parties.