59 year old Stephen Slevin decided to drive across county in 2005. However, his trip was stopped short in Dona Ana, New Mexico when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He was taken to the Dona Ana County Detention Center and was held there for nearly two years without ever going to court.
Slevin was allegedly separated from other inmates because of his history of mental illness and because he indicated that he was suicidal. How did the jail deal with a mentally ill, suicidal person? Lock them up and ignore them.
“[Prison officials were] walking by me every day, watching me deteriorate,” Slevin told NBC-DFW. “Day after day after day, they did nothing, nothing at all, to get me any help.”
And deteriorate he did. Slevin became delirious, lost weight, and developed fungus and dental issues. In fact, the dental problems became so bad that he was forced to pull out his own tooth. According to his attorney, Slevin’s toenails “grew so long they curled under his toes.” A post release picture of Slevin revealed a beard that ZZ Top would have been proud of.
While he was held in solitary confinement as a pretrial detainee, the DWI charges against Slevin failed to be prosecuted. Exactly why and how Slevin’s case never legally progressed remains blurry. He was, however, eventually released after a judge dismissed his criminal case 22 months later. He then filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county. A federal jury awarded Slevin $22 million. After the county appealed, a settlement for $15.5 million was reached between the parties.
If you ask me, the county should consider itself lucky. I find it utterly offensive that a dip in the county’s pocket is the only reprimand it’ll get. Is the money coming from the individuals directly involved? Nope, no accountability whatsoever. What a wonderfully apathetic incentive for the future humane treatment of detainees. So where is the money going to come from? The Las Cruces Sun-News gives us the numbers:
“15.5 million: Dollars agreed upon in a final settlement of that case.
9.5 million: Dollars that will come from county coffers, or in others words, [taxpayer] money. Insurance will cover the other $6 million.
22: Months Slevin was allowed to languish in legal limbo before the case against him was finally dismissed.
Zero: County officials, at any level, who have thus far been held accountable for this mess.”
“In the wake of this large settlement, we can say definitely that we have learned from the past,” the county said in a statement. “We can also say with confidence that we are leading the way for the future.” The county claims that it is making “bold steps” to improve the jail.
I sincerely hope that this county is not “leading the way for the future.” A sarcastic thumbs up to Dona Ana County for upping its efforts only after ruining a life.