The DEA just settled for $4.1 million dollars in a lawsuit brought by a man the agency nearly killed last year. The plaintiff, 25-year-old engineering student Daniel Chong of the University of California San Diego, was detained in a DEA raid in April 2012 and placed in a windowless cell no bigger than five by 10 feet. Chong spent the next four days there, without food, water, or a toilet, despite having been told by agents that he would not even be charged. To stay alive, he was forced to drink his own urine. When his cell was finally opened four days later, Chong was found unconscious, dehydrated, and with a slit wrist. Chong, his cries for help repeatedly ignored, had given up hope and tried to end his life. It boggles the mind to think that government agents simply "forgot" about a prisoner who then almost died, but that is apparently what happened.
The DEA says they didn't have a detainee policy at that time, but now they've installed cameras in cells and instituted daily inspections. But you've got to wonder why they didn't have procedures for detainees before. The DEA’s job is to enforce drug laws, and yet apparently it couldn't competently detain the people who break those laws. It should not have taken the near-death of an innocent person to lead to common-sense procedures on caring for those in custody. And why, according to Chong's lawyers, hasn't anyone at the DEA been punished or fired for their role in this debacle, over a year later?
This scandal isn't an isolated incident either. In fact, the DEA seems to have culture of corruption. Though now forgotten, a week before the story of Daniel Chong's ordeal broke, the Secret Service was embroiled in its own scandal after revelations that agents had hired prostitutes during President Obama’s trip to Colombia. After a Congressional investigation, it turned out DEA agents had not only participated in that scandal, they also arranged liaisons for some of the Secret Service members, and — to top it off — tried to cover it up: destroying text-messages on their Blackberries and lying to investigators.
If nearly killing a detainee isn't a fireable offense at the DEA, what is? Perhaps it's time that they had a change in leadership. Michele Leonhart, most known for her difficulty in making a distinction between marijuana and heroin, has headed the DEA since 2007. At this point, it's clear that she is either unable or unwilling to shake up the culture there. She should step down or be fired in order for a new nominee to take her place. The culture of a bureaucracy emanates from the top, and it's clear that unless there is a change in leadership, the DEA is unlikely to change.