It’s hard to live in America and ignore the stories of police brutality… some undoubtedly exaggerated, some tragically true. But here’s what’s undeniable: government employees enjoy immunity from gross and tragic incompetence in ways never would be allowed in the private sector.
Meet UC San Diego student Daniel Chong. Three years ago he was at a friend’s house smoking pot on April 20, known as “Weed Day” — a day pot smokers set aside to indulge in their favorite pastime. (In the 1970s, “420” was the California police code for “marijuana smoking in progress.” 420 became slang for smoking pot and 4/20 became their “holiday.”) When the police arrived, they took the college student to the Drug Enforcement Administration office where he was questioned. After a conversation, they told him he could go home, but first he was put into a temporary holding cell.
He was handcuffed, given nothing to eat or drink. He had no human interaction. He couldn’t spread his arms out wide, because the cell was only 5 ft. by 10 ft. He began panicking and contemplating suicide. He lost fifteen pounds, began hallucinating by the third day, and was simply left to die. He screamed. He kicked.
Though he could hear DEA agents in other rooms — and at least four DEA employees saw or heard his screams — they didn’t respond to his cries.
Why? They assumed someone else was responsible.
Finally, after five days, someone opened the door. By this time, Chong was near death. His kidneys had failed. He’d swallowed glass. He was placed in intensive care for three days.
Thankfully, Chong survived and was awarded a multi-million dollar settlement for what happened to him. But what was the response of the DEA to this harrowing, traumatic incident? They ordered an internal review and the responsible employees were disciplined. How? They received four written reprimands, one five-day suspension, and one seven-day suspension.
Ken White at Popehat writes:
If I seize someone, handcuff them, lock them in a room, and leave them to die, I will suffer severe consequences. I will lose my job, especially if I acted while performing my duties. I will go to jail. I will suffer catastrophic personal financial losses. My name will be broadcast far and wide.
That’s the difference between me and a federal employee.
The DEA agents who arrested Andrew Chong for smoking dope and left him to die got reprimands or suspensions that were shorter than my last tension headache. You and I — the taxpayers — paid Andrew Chong the $4.1 million settlement he secured; the agents did not. They are not named in any of the articles about the incident. They will not go to jail. They will not lose their jobs.
Slapping federal employees on the wrist after such dangerous incompetence does nothing for the well-being of a self-governing society. It creates even more distrust from citizens toward a government that seems to only do one thing well: cover up their own corruption and ineptitude.