Man “Forgotten” in Solitary Confinement Awarded $15.5 Million

It’s estimated that there are currently 2.5 million people incarcerated in the United States. Being the world leader when it comes to incarceration, I suppose someone being “accidentally” forgotten in solitary confinement for two years without ever seeing a judge or being formally charged with a crime is bound to happen on occasion. Such was the case with Stephen Slevin who was recently awarded the largest prisoner civil rights financial settlement in United States history. Slevin’s case begs the question: how many people are there currently similarly rotting away in county jails across the country much like Slevin once was was? Also, how many of them have been released without as much as a dime in compensation?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A southern New Mexico county has reached a $15.5 million settlement to end the legal battle over the case of a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years and was so neglected that he took out his own tooth.

The settlement announced late Tuesday stems from mediation ordered by a federal appeals court.

Dona Ana County was appealing a lower court decision to uphold a $22 million judgment that was awarded last year to former county inmate Stephen R. Slevin. That verdict was one of the largest federal civil rights settlements in history.

The county’s board of commissioners said in a statement that it regrets the harm Slevin suffered while in custody.

According to Slevin’s lawsuit, he spent 22 months in jail after being arrested for drunken driving but was never convicted. (source)

So what exactly did Slevin endure? Short of actually being waterboarded, his experience should be classified as torture (PDF):

Slevin was arrested while driving through the southern New Mexico county in August 2005. He ended up in solitary confinement because he was suffering from depression and someone checked a box on a form indicating he was suicidal, Coyte said.
Slevin was given some drugs for depression but never saw a mental health professional, Coyte said. He said his client wrote letters for months seeking help, but they were ignored.
“By January 2006, his last letter goes out looking for help. Then he falls into this delirium. He was there for the next 20 months,” Coyte said.
Coyte said that in May 2007, Slevin was sent to a mental health facility in Las Vegas, N.M., for two weeks but then was returned to the Dona Ana County jail and solitary confinement.
“He immediately decompensates,” Coyte said. “He sends off another letter at this point asking for medical care. … He is forced to pull his own tooth. He rocked it back and forth over a period of eight hours before he was able to pull it out of his mouth.”
stephen-slevinSlevin was finally released in June 2007, Coyte said. He was never convicted.
“He entered this facility with overt symptoms of mental depression,” Coyte said. “But that’s not the issue. … He was stuck in a 6-foot-by-11-foot cell with a concrete bench for a bed. And he sat in that cell. We had documentary evidence that he didn’t get out for anything – for recreation, a shower – for months at a time.” (source)

Listen to Slevin in his own words in the following report which was filed in January 2012. The sad thing, however, as luck would have it Slevin is fighting lung cancer and it’s reported that he may not live long enough to see a penny of his settlement; yep, this truly sucks, folks. But hey, if this is what happened to what would appear to be a white man in America, can you imagine how people of color are treated?

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