Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa





Grassley Questions DEA about Alleged Mistreatment and Detainment of California College Student

May 04, 2012

Grassley Questions DEA about Alleged Mistreatment and Detainment of California College Student

Justice Department IG Expected to Investigate

            WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is pressing for answers in the alleged mistreatment and detainment by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of a University of California-San Diego student.  

            In a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, Grassley specifically asks about an investigation by the Department of Justice Inspector General and the DEA’s cooperation with the Inspector General.   He also inquired about the DEA’s general detention policies and the detailed actions by the DEA in the case of the California student.

            “Judging from the press reports, the Inspector General will have a lot to look into,” Grassley said.  “And, if the allegations are true, the DEA and its agents need to be held accountable for the treatment of this young man.”

            The Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the Drug Enforcement Administration.

            Here’s a copy of Grassley’s letter to Leonhart.

May 4, 2012

Via Electronic Transmission

The Honorable Michele Leonhart


Drug Enforcement Administration

700 Army Navy Drive, Room 12060

Arlington, VA 22202

Dear Administrator Leonhart,

I write today regarding reports of the alleged mistreatment of Daniel Chong, a University of California-San Diego college student, by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in San Diego.  If the reports are accurate that Mr. Chong was left for five days in a five-by-ten foot windowless cell without the basic human necessities of food, water, or a bathroom, the actions of the DEA raise serious and troubling questions.

According to media reports, Amy Roderick, a DEA spokeswoman states “seven suspects were brought to county detention after processing, one was released and the individual in question was accidentally left in one of the cells.”  In the same article, Mr. Chong himself states that, from his cell, he heard occasional footsteps, doors opening and closing, and the sound of muffled voices and that he even saw shadows beneath the door.  If that is true, it is difficult for me to comprehend how no one could have heard what he says were his own repeated cries for help over his course of time in the cell.  I appreciate that Acting Special Agent-in-Charge William Sherman has expressed his “deepest apologies” to Mr. Chong and has willingly opened an internal investigation into the matter, but I am not sure that will be enough to put the matter to rest.

The physical and psychological trauma that Mr. Chong was subjected to because of the apparent neglect by the DEA is the most troubling to me.  The article asserts that Mr. Chong resorted to survival skills to stay alive and when he was eventually found he was immediately “taken to the hospital and treated for cramps, dehydration and a perforated lung – the result of ingesting some broken glass.”

As Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, I have a distinct responsibility in conducting oversight over the DEA.  Further, given the alleged actions give rise to serious constitutional violations; I would appreciate expeditious responses to the following questions.

•    What is DEA’s written policy on the detention of suspects at DEA facilities?  Please provide a copy of all relevant policy and training manuals that reference procedures for handling detainees in DEA custody at DEA facilities.  

•    Is there a shift supervisor responsible for oversight of the facility and the detainees?

•    What are the policies and procedures of the facility for the handling of a detainee, from intake to discharge?  

•    Is there a log system in place to maintain and track the detainees?  If yes, please explain the process.

•    Routinely, holding cells are monitored by surveillance cameras for the protection of both the detainee and the law enforcement official.  Is this technology available at the DEA facility?  If so, is someone responsible for monitoring the cameras?

•    Is there a system in place to indicate when someone is located inside a holding cell (ie. strobe light indicator)?

•    What was the reason that Mr. Chong was originally apprehended in the raid?  Was he interviewed or the subject of questioning?  If questioned and determined to be innocent, why was he returned to the holding cell instead of being released?

•    Was Mr. Chong searched for weapons and contraband before placing him in the holding cell?  Was the holding cell searched for weapons and contraband before receiving Mr. Chong?  

•    Can you explain where the methamphetamines came from?  Was it inventoried as evidence or contraband on DEA records?  If so, please provide the chain-of-custody records for the methamphetamines found in the holding cell?

•    How would it have been possible for Mr. Chong to hear others in nearby rooms and for them not to have heard his reported cries for help?

•    Mr. Chong asserts that “when they opened the door, one of them said: ‘Here’s the water you’ve been asking for.”  How was Mr. Chong finally discovered?  Was Mr. Chong discovered by someone from the DEA?  Please provide a timeline showing the time when Mr. Chong was received into the county facility until the time he was discharged.

•    It is my understanding that the Department of Justice Inspector General (OIG) has initiated an investigation into the DEA’s conduct in this matter.  What if any contact has the DEA had with the OIG?  Will DEA cooperate with the OIG’s inquiry?  

Thank you for your cooperation and attention to this important matter.  I look forward to your prompt response no later than May 11, 2012.


                            Charles E. Grassley

                            Ranking Member