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DEA neglect of man with no drug crime charge draws more fire

It is virtually impossible to leave a prisoner in a holding cell in an official federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in a major metropolitan area and forget him for five consecutive days. That is what the San Diego DEA did, however, to a 23-year-old University of California student who had been picked up in a drug raid and never charged with a drug crime. Instead, he was forgotten and ignored for five days, while handcuffed and without water, food or sanitary facilities.

In those five days, the man had to drink his own urine, defecate in the cell, and finally face his own death by carving a farewell message to his mother on his arm with broken glass. The issue came to the forefront with the announcement by DEA of reprimands and short suspensions of up to seven days of six agents. The discipline brought criticism from the U.S. Justice Department and in the halls of the U.S. Senate.

An official government report on the incident had reported that several DEA officers heard or saw the man in the cell but would not help him because they thought that he was someone else's responsibility. The gross neglect of the man led to a $4.1 million verdict against the DEA. The Justice Department, which has jurisdiction over the DEA, expressed concern that the penalties were light and that the whole disciplinary process for the DEA would have to be reviewed.

The top officer for the DEA recently resigned under Congressional pressure, due to issues regarding her mismanagement of misconduct charges against various agents, including with respect to the incident in California. U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, head of the Judiciary Committee, has been particularly critical of the mismanagement, and called the discipline "very inadequate." The egregiousness of the incident is exacerbated by the fact that the man was not even charged with a drug crime, a strong indication that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. 

Source:, "US agency punishes drug agents after man left in San Diego cell; punishment seen as light", Elliott Spagat, May 5, 2015

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