Prisoner gets $15.5 million for 2 years of solitary

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY,  |  March 7, 2013 at 3:02 PM
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A man was awarded $15.5 million after spending almost two years in solitary confinement, where his health and mental well-being were neglected.

Stephen Slevin, 59, spent 22 months between 2005 and 2007 imprisoned at Dona Ana County Jail in New Mexico, where he faced inhumane treatment after he was arrested for driving under the influence.

Dona Ana County was originally ordered to pay Slevin $22 million last January, NBC reported, but has been refusing to pay until now. The first payment, for $6 million, will be made this week.

Slevin's attorney Matt Coyte, said the abuse began from the moment he was arrested. Slevin was depressed, so his jailers put him in a padded cell for three days. He was never treated for mental illness -- nor did he ever see a judge or get a trial.

"[Jail guards were] walking by me every day, watching me deteriorate," Slevin told NBC's "Day after day after day, they did nothing, nothing at all, to get me any help."

After the three days, Slevin was transferred to solitary, where he sometimes wasn't even allowed a single hour a day outside.

"Their policy is to then just put [prisoners with health issues] in solitary," Coyte said.

By the time Slevin was released, his hair and beard covered much of his face, and his toenails had grown to curl around his feet. Slevin said he was often deprived of showers, and had fungus festering on his skin.

He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and will likely have to take medication for the rest of his life.

"I wanted people to know that there are people at The Dona Ana County Jail that are doing things like this to people and getting away with it," Slevin said. "Why they did what they did, I have no idea."

According to Coyte the payout -- one of the largest for a prisoner in U.S. history -- is less about the money for Slevin than it is about peace of mind.

"His mental health has been severely compromised from the time he was in that facility," Coyte said. "That continues to be the same. No amount of money will bring back what they took away from him."

"But it’s nice to be able to get him some money so he can improve where he is in life and move on."

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