Man left in solitary confinement in New Mexico jail for 22 MONTHS after horrific treatment awarded $15.5M
A New Mexico prisoner who languished for nearly two years in solitary confinement — and was so neglected that he had to yank out his own tooth — has been awarded one of the largest federal civil rights settlements in history.
Stephen Slevin, 59, will be paid $15.5 million after Dona Ana County agreed to settle with the former inmate, who was jailed at the county detention center from 2005 to 2007 on a DWI arrest.
The settlement, however, is smaller than the $22 million a jury initially awarded him in January 2012 and had been appealed by the county.
“His mental health has been severely compromised from the time he was in that facility. That continues to be the same. No amount of money will bring back what they took away from him," Slevin’s attorney, Matt Coyte, said Wednesday, according to NBC News. “But it’s nice to be able to get him some money so he can improve where he is in life and move on.”
Those 22 months in solitary was an inhumane and hellish experience for Slevin: His toenails grew so long that they curled around his foot; he was denied showers, causing fungus to form on his skin; and he developed bedsores.
Jail officials also didn’t allow him to see a dentist, his lawyer said, so Slevin grew so desperate that he extracted a painful tooth on his own.
Before and after pictures of the inmate show the dramatic difference during his time in jail. After two years, his hair was long and unkempt, his face became haggard. He said he lost 50 pounds.
Now, he still faces an uphill battle with his health after doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer, he said.
Stephen Slevin (l.) in Aug. 2005 at the time of his arrest for drunken driving, and on the right in May 2007, shortly before being released from solitary confinement.
“He’s had lots of difficulties over the years,” Coyte said. “I don’t think he will stop having difficulties.”
Slevin, originally from Virginia, was arrested in August 2005 on suspicion of drunk driving. His attorney says he was depressed at the time and was trying to leave New Mexico.
But officials merely threw him in solitary confinement, and his attorney said he was never given a hearing before being placed in solitary or allowed to see a judge right after his arrest.
Slevin's subsequent lawsuit claimed his rights of due process were violated.
In a statement Tuesday, Dona Ana County Board of Commissioners said it “deeply regrets” what happened to Slevin and that they’ve changed how they care for the mentally ill.
“Bold steps have been taken to establish Dona Ana County as the model for detention centers and the care of the mentally ill in the state of New Mexico,” the county said. “While we believe the Slevin award was excessive, we respect our judicial system and the role of juries to award damages.”
No jail personnel was ever fired over Slevin’s treatment, NBC said.