Stephen Slevin (58), who alleges that he was essentially “forgotten” about while in custody at a New Mexico prison, has been awarded $22 million. Slevin was held for two years in solitary confinement without ever being prosecuted, a constitutional violation.
CNN reports that Slevin, who was held on charges for DUI, asserted that "This has never been about the money," following the jury’s decision to award him the hefty payout.
As a result of the solitary confinement, Slevin now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome from what he described to be mental and physical mistreatment from the correctional officers at Dona Ana County.
Slevin was arrested in 2005 for drunk driving and for receiving a stolen vehicle. His lawyers claim that Slevin was segregated from other inmates after it was discovered that he had a long history of mental illness.
"They threw him in solitary and then ignored him," said Matthew Coyte, Slevin’s attorney. "He disappeared into delirium, and his mental illness was made worse by being isolated from human contact and a lack of medical care."
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In his lawsuit, Slevin recounts that he became “malnourished, lost significant weight, developed bedsores, fungus and dental problems and was not aware of his situation or surroundings during the confinement period.” Photos before and after his stay in confinement show the marked decline in Slevin’s health.
His pleas for help were dismissed by officers at the corrections facility, even forcing Slevin to pull out his own tooth at one point.
Slevin was given a psychiatric evaluation at a separate state facility, but upon returning to Dona Ana, he was again left in solitary confinement.
After 22 months without trial, Slevin was finally released and the charges against him were dismissed. Slevin filed suit saying that since there was no hearing prior to his solitary confinement, his right to due process was violated.
The county denied “that there was lack of medical care” provided to Slevin in pre-trial motions. For other allegations, officials claimed they were "without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief" of the claims.
CNN goes on to report that the defendants believed that Slevin “was too late to file his suit, and that as government employees, county officials deserved immunity from liability, believing they acted in good faith as to Slevin's treatment in custody.”
Before the jury’s decision was made, there was a plea deal offered with the price tag of $2 million.
Slevin’s attorney, Coyte, hopes that the trial will send messages to the correctional facilities across the country with regard to their treatment of inmates. Slevin, who is still of poor mental health, now also suffers from lung cancer.
Here’s an NBC report on the story: