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Student Forgotten In Holding Cell: 'Changes Have To Be Made'

Daniel Chong appears at a news conference on Tuesday in San Diego.
Daniel Chong appears at a news conference on Tuesday in San Diego.

Daniel Chong, a California college senior, was forgotten in a federal holding cell without food or water for five days.

Today, he told All Things Considered's Audie Cornish that the five days tested his sanity and his resolve to live.

"I didn't stay sane," Chong said. "Eventually, by the second or third night ... I went completely insane and was just trying to get a grip on reality, on what's happening to me."

Chong said at one point he thought about using his glasses to cut into his arm and kill himself.

As we reported yesterday, Chong was detained for questioning after a house he was spending the night in was raided by the Drug Enforcement Agency. As Chong tells it, the agents questioned him, then told him they would release him and give him a ride home.

But he was cuffed and put into a holding cell. That door would not open for five days. At one point, Chong said, the lights were turned off and all he could see was a strip of light underneath the door.

The DEA offered an apology.

"I extend my deepest apologies to the young man and want to express that this event is not indicative of the high standards that I hold my employees to. I have personally ordered an extensive review of our policies and procedures," acting Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman of DEA's San Diego Field Division said in a statement.

Chong said he feels good about that apology but also notes that the DEA has not apologized in person.

Today, The Los Angeles Times reported that Chong is seeking $20 million in a lawsuit against the DEA. Audie asked him if he would drop the lawsuit if he received an in-person apology.

"I don't want this to happen again," he said. "Changes have to be made."

During the interview, Chong sounded puzzled about why this happened to him. It doesn't make sense, he said, that the agents would do this on purpose. But how could they not hear him kicking the door, screaming for help?

"My cries were suicidal," he said. "At one point I even begged them to urinate through the crack of the door just for me to drink. I was willing to drink other people's urine. I mean it was pretty low and embarrassing."

More of Audie's conversation with Chong will air on tonight's edition ofAll Things Considered . Click here to find an NPR member station. We'll also post an as-aired version of the interview at the top of this post later tonight.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.