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Former Inmate, Left in Solitary Confinement, Settles for $15.5M

Former New Mexico inmate Stephen Slevin settled for less than the $22M jury award

March 6, 2013, 9:00 am
By Peter St. Cyr

A former Doña Ana County jail inmate, who won a record jury award for physical and mental pain he suffered while in solitary confinement, has agreed to settle his complaint for $15.5 million.

Stephen Slevin, 59, sued the detention center in 2008 for civil rights violations, claiming he was essentially forgotten after being charged with drunk driving and receiving a stolen vehicle near Las Cruces.

The settlement agreement reached yesterday comes less than three months after Federal District Court Judge Martha Vasquez ruled the original $22 million dollar jury award was not excessive.

“It has been a long and hard fight to bring Mr. Slevin justice,” Slevin's attorney, Matthew Coyte, said in an  statement emailed to SFR. “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.”

Doña Ana taxpayers will have to foot most of the cost of the settlement. The New Mexico Association of Counties will cover the first $6 million to be paid this week; the county says it will pay the remainder out of cash reserves.

Officials in Las Cruces say they do not expect any reduction in essential public services due to the payout. But they are planning to evaluate the settlements impact to current and future budgets.

The Board of County Commissioners wrote in a news release forwarded to SFR that “it deeply regrets the harm Mr. Slevin suffered during this period.”

The county’s jailers are promising to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

After Slevin filed his lawsuit, the detention center implemented new training programs and procedures, which provide inmates better access to medical care and mental health service. Facility managers also say the jail is back on track to be nationally accredited by both the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the American Jail Association.  

But Coyte’s not 100 percent convinced that jailers’ mindset has changed. In December, before the settlement, he told SFR that in the 10 months since the original verdict, “very little has changed in the approach of those in charge of the jail.”

Yesterday, Coyte wrote that he hopes Doña Ana County follows through “on their promise to do better.”

 

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