Prisoner Left in Solitary 2 Years Receives $15.5M Settlement


When his prisoner rights case went to trial, Coyte said that the defense claimed that Slevin had wanted to be in solitary, and that he had the ability to get out whenever he wanted. That was contradicted by guards who testified at the trial, he said.

While he was being held, Slevin's DWI case was stalled after a lawyer raised the issue of competency. The case was delayed, Coyte said, as medical evaluations were meant to take place.

"In this county, if a person is dangerous, they want to hold him. That's the political culture of that county," he said. "Many counties do this."

Williams told that if Slevin had requested it, he would have been evaluated. He said he wasn't aware if Williams had requested an evaluation.

On May 8, 2007, Slevin was released from solitary and sent to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute n Las Vegas, N.M. Once there, he was slowly re-socialized with other people, and was given medication. Coyte said that it was only a matter of days before he was returning to normal.

"He was thinking, 'where have I been?' Coyte said. "He thought it was a matter of months. He was shocked to find out he's been gone for so long. They had him figured out quickly. If you treat him like a human being, he becomes one."

But after two weeks, Slevin was sent back to Dona Ana County jail, and was returned to the same solitary cell. He began to deteriorate again. In this period he had an abscess on a tooth. Without any medical attention he twisted it back and forth for eight hours until he was able to rip it out, his lawyer said.

On June 22, 2007 the charges against Slevin were dismissed by a district court judge. Coyte said that he believes a judge who saw his case must have had pity on him. Three days later he was released, and was picked up by his sister, who having stopped receiving letters, had thought she had somehow angered her brother.

Coyte said that no one would take Slevin's case. In the legal community, he said, there is a belief that no one will value the pain and suffering of someone who was in jail. But he decided to take the county on.

The case went to trial in January of last year. During the trial, Coyte brought into the courtroom a replica of the pod-like cell that Slevin was kept in for jurors to see.

"We were able to prove they were indifferent to the conditions of confinement that Slevin was subjected to," Coyte said.

Testimony during the week-long trial from guards who had worked at the Dona Ana County Detention Center painted a picture of Slevin being kept in the conditions he described, and overall poor management of prisoners, Coyte said.

Slevin was awarded $22 million by a jury. That amount was appealed, and on Feb. 12 they settled for $15.5 million, which was announced this week.

The Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners released a statement Tuesday saying that it "deeply regrets the harm Mr. Slevin suffered during this period [of incarceration]."

The release also points out that since 2006 the detention center budget has nearly been doubled, which has been "channeled toward improved staffing, training and inmate access to care and services."

Williams, the county spokesman, told that the length of time Slevin was held was out of the jail's hands.

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