A man who spent 22 months in solitary confinement after being picked up for drunk driving received $15.5 million in a settlement with the county running the facility that was responsible for his horrific treatment. A recent announcement by officials from Dona Ana County, New Mexico revealed that the settlement would put an end to a lengthy battle between the county and the horribly treated prisoner, Stephen R. Slevin.
The ordeal began in August of 2005 when Slevin was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. Slevin was arrested and transported to county jail where he was placed in solitary confinement after prison officials decided he was unstable and possibly suicidal. The confinement continued for nearly two years, with Slevin remaining solely in his cell for stretches as long as several months.
Slevin’s incarceration was a nightmare. The man was left alone and neglected beyond belief. Slevin developed horrible bedsores, stopped bathing and shaving, developed fungus on his skin, had toenails so long that they curled under his feet and suffered from dental problems so severe that he was forced to pull his own tooth after denied access to proper dental care. During his time in solitary confinement he also suffered a steep decline in his mental health, allegedly writing dozens of letters to prison officials begging for help to manage his clinical depression. Records showed Slevin lost 50 pounds over the course of the ordeal.
What makes the whole affair even more shocking is that Slevin was never brought before a judge or convicted of any crime. Though he was arrested for drunk driving, he remained in prison without ever having been tried or convicted of anything. Slevin was finally released in 2007 and eventually hired an attorney who sued Dona Ana County for its inhumane treatment of Slevin.
Back in January of 2012, a jury who heard the case was evidently outraged by the county’s conduct and awarded Slevin $22 million. The county appealed the verdict saying that it was excessive. A court-ordered mediation process then began which resulted in the recently announced settlement. The verdict amounts to one of the largest federal civil rights settlements in history.
Dona Ana County tried to point out that Slevin had a criminal history, including earlier instances of drunk driving in other states. While this may be true, no such prior conduct could ever justify the deplorable conditions Slevin was forced to endure, especially in the absence of a criminal conviction.
Though $15 million is undoubtedly a lot of money, it cannot come close to compensating Slevin for the 22 months of horror he suffered through. Being along for months at a time with terrible health problems is an unimaginable punishment for a man arrested but never convicted of drunk driving. We can only hope that Dona Ana County learned its lesson and that such horrific treatment never again occurs to others suspected of driving drunk.
Source: “Neglected prisoner gets $15.5 million after serving 22 months in solitary,” by Mike Krumboltz, published at News.Yahoo.com