Daniel Chong, 23, was detained in an April 2012 drug raid in San Diego and left in the 5-by-10-foot windowless holding cell. He said he drank his own urine to stay alive and tried to write a farewell message to his mother with his own blood.
The people familiar with the case spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the settlement before it was announced Tuesday morning at a news conference.
Chong, who was an engineering student at University of California, San Diego, was at a friend's house in April 2012 when a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raid netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Chong and eight others were taken into custody.
Agents told Chong he would not be charged and had him wait in the cell at DEA offices in San Diego. The door did not reopen for four days, when agents found him severely dehydrated and covered in his own feces.
Chong said he began to hallucinate on the third day. He urinated on a metal bench to drink his urine. He stacked a blanket, his pants and shoes on the bench and tried to reach an overhead fire sprinkler, futilely swatting at it with his cuffed hands to set it off.
Chong said last year that he gave up and accepted death. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them. He said he used a shard of glass to carve "Sorry Mom" onto his arm so he could leave something for her. He managed to finish an "S."
Chong was hospitalized for five days for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He lost 15 pounds.
The DEA issued a rare public apology at the time.
Chong's attorney, Eugene Iredale, said Monday that he would announce "an important development" Tuesday, little more than a year after filing a $20 million claim against the federal government.
A DEA spokesman, Rusty Payne, referred questions Monday to the Justice Department, which handled settlement negotiations. A call to the Justice Department's public affairs office was not returned.