The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who left a 23-year-old UC San Diego student locked in a holding cell for five days without food or water received only light punishments, according to the Justice Department.
In a Friday letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the Justice Department revealed that, of the six DEA agents involved in the near-fatal incident, four received letters of reprimand and two were given week-long suspensions without pay.
In 2012, DEA agents detained University of California San Diego student Daniel Chong following a raid on his friend’s house, where Chong had gone to smoke marijuana. The agent told Chong he would be released following an interrogation.
Instead, Chong was left handcuffed in a windowless holding cell by himself for five days without food, water or a toilet while agents ignored his cries for help. When an agent finally opened the door to Chong’s cell, Chong was delirious and so dehydrated that he had resorted to drinking his own urine. Chong was hospitalized for four days following his release and had to undergo extensive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The government later agreed to a $4.1 million settlement with Chong to avoid a lawsuit.
In its letter to Grassley, the Justice Department said "what happened to Mr. Chong is unacceptable."
"While DEA leadership took immediate steps following the incident to implement protocols and procedures with regard to monitoring holding cells and detainees, given the significant misconduct at issue, the Department has serious concerns about the adequacy of the discipline that DEA imposed on these employees," the Justice Department continued. "DEA’s failure to impose significant discipline on these employees further demonstrates the need for a systematic review of DEA’s disciplinary process, which former Attorney General Eric Holder recently directed."
Last August, Grassley sent a letter to the DEA with 19 questions regarding the incident. According to the senator, the DEA has yet to respond eight months later.
Grassley called the punishments "very inadequate" in a press release.
"The Drug Enforcement Administration still has a lot of explaining to do, and failing to answer my questions doesn’t show that they’ve learned from the mistakes made in Mr. Chong’s detention," Grassley said. "This is a very serious matter and questions should be answered to ensure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again."
The DEA’s disciplinary process came under scrutiny last month after it was revealed that no DEA agents were fired for their participation in illicit sex parties with Colombian prostitutes provided by drug cartels.
DEA administrator Michele Leonhart announced her resignation last month amid the scandal.