A former inmate who suffered nearly two years in solitary confinement without a trial reached a settlement that makes him a multi-millionaire.
Stephen Slevin, 59, accepted a $15 million settlement on Tuesday -- one of the largest civil rights prisoner payouts in American history -- for the nightmarish 22 months he spent mostly alone in a Doña Ana County, N.M., jail.
“It has been a long and hard fight to bring Mr. Slevin justice,” his attorney, Matthew Coyte, said in a statement, according to the Santa Fe Reporter. “This settlement, although very large, does not give back to Mr. Slevin what was taken from him, but if it prevents others from enduring the pain and suffering he was subjected to, then the fight has been worthwhile.”
The conditions that Slevin endured ruined him, physically and mentally. He fell into a state of delirium, developed bedsores and fungus, and lost a significant amount of weight, according to his lawsuit. His toenails "grew so long they curled under his toes," the Albuquerque Journal reported. Once, in need of dental care, he pulled out his own tooth.
The final sum is "significantly less" than the $22 million awarded to Slevin by a federal court jury last year, according to the Atlantic Wire. Despite a federal judge upholding the original amount when Doña Ana County officials called it excessive, Slevin elected to accept $15.5 million and end the legal battles.
Slevin's ordeal began in August 2005 when he was pulled over and accused of driving drunk.
"He was driving through New Mexico and arrested for a DWI, and he allegedly was in a stolen vehicle. Well, it was a car he had borrowed from a friend; a friend had given him a car to drive across the country," Coyte told NBC News in January.
Slevin claims that he never saw a judge, and that after three days authorities transfered him to a solitary cell in the jail near the Mexican border without explanation.
Finally in 2007, the charges were dropped. Slevin's burly beard, overgrown hair and droopy face hardly resembled his clean-shaven presentation in the mugshot taken at the time of his arrest.
The burden of paying out the settlement mostly falls on New Mexico taxpayers. In a recent editorial, the Las Cruces Sun-News breaks down the figures:
The final numbers are in regarding the sad saga of Stephen Slevin, and if you're a taxpayer living in Doña Ana County who will have to cover the cost of this debacle, they're not pretty:
22 million: Dollars awarded to Slevin by a federal court for his months of neglect and mistreatment in the Doña Ana County Detention Center.
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, your 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.