An inmate in a New Mexico county jail who was put in solitary confinement for nearly two years without being charged has won a $15.5 million settlement.
A jury awarded Stephen Slevin $22 million in his suit against Doña Ana County in January of 2012. The county appealed, but agreed last week to pay the $15.5 million settlement and drop its appeal of the verdict.
Slevin, now 59, was arrested on a drunk driving charge in August 2005. He spent 22 months in solitary confinement at the Doña Ana County Detention Center as a pretrial detainee. The charges for driving while intoxicated and receiving a stolen vehicle were never prosecuted.
According to his lawsuit, he entered jail as a “well nourished, physically healthy adult,” but by the time he was released in June 2007, he had an unkempt beard, bed sores, dental problems, and weighed only 133 pounds.
Slevin said he had to pull out his own teeth and his cries for help were ignored.
Slevin, who had a long history of mental illness prior to his arrest, also suffered a drastic deterioration in his mental state. After nearly two years spent in solitary confinement without treatment he was no longer aware of his surroundings at the time of his release.
"They threw him in solitary and then ignored him," said his attorney, Matthew Coyte. "He disappeared into delirium and his mental illness was made worse by being isolated from human contact and a lack of medical care."
His lawsuit claimed the county violated his due process rights under the Constitution because he was never given a hearing before he was put in solitary confinement.
Coyte said he hopes the case helps stop the use solitary confinement in America.
"Other countries recognize it as a form of torture, whereas America uses it as a routine method of incarceration," Coyte said.
He said that families of those in solitary confinement see the effects of this “barbaric treatment,” in which an inmate is isolated from daylight or human contact for all but one hour per day.
“Hopefully Stephen’s story can make a difference to them and others who are currently sitting in a concrete cell 23 hours a day.”