More than 3,650,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Monday, March 18, 2013

Stephen Slevin: Who's Going to Prison For Holding a DWI Suspect in Solitary Confinement For 22 Months?

       The Dona Ana County Jail is located in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the south central part of the state not far from the Mexican border. In August 2005, a driving while intoxicated and receiving stolen property arrestee named Stephen Slevin was placed into the 846-cot lockup. The 51-year-old, because of his history of mental illness, was segregated from the jail population. For reasons that defy understanding, Slevin remained in solitary confinement until his release in June 2007. After having Slevin in custody for 22 months, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against the so-called "forgotten inmate." (Had he been truly forgotten, the inmate would have starved to death. Since someone fed this isolated prisoner for 22 months, jail personnel knew of his situation. So how did this happen?)

     The "forgotten" prisoner had entered the Dona Ana County Jail in relatively good health, mentally and physically. He left the place weighting 133 pounds with bed sores and rotten teeth. (During his incarceration, he had pulled out his own abscessed tooth.) Slevin also walked out of the facility suffering from post-traumatic stress. (He is now fighting lung cancer.)

     Attorney Matthew Coyte, in December 2008, filed a civil rights suit on Slevin's behalf against Dana Ana County, New Mexico. County authorities fought the suit, but at Slevin's civil rights trial in March 2012, the jury awarded the plaintiff $22 million. Fighting the case had been an obvious mistake. The county appealed the award on grounds the damages were excessive.

     In March 2013, the Dona Ana County Board of Commissioners dropped the appeal and settled the case. The county agreed to pay the "forgotten inmate" $15.5 million.

     The settlement resolved the civil side of the case. But what about the criminal aspect of Slevin's 22-month wrongful imprisonment? The bureaucrats responsible for this man's ordeal were clearly guilty of a degree of reckless indifference that is criminal. But holding government employees responsible for malfeasance is extremely difficult. The nature of bureaucracy protects incompetent practitioners by making it almost impossible to pinpoint wrongdoing to any one person.

     Had Stephen Slevin been falsely imprisoned in a private sector facility, corrections personnel would be already serving prison sentences.

     If Mr. Slevin, months into his hellish confinement, had committed suicide, this would be a homicide case. The taxpayers of Dona Ana County will foot the bill for this stunning example of governmental negligence, but no public employee will be held criminally culpable for this inexplicable corrections fiasco. 

No comments:

Post a Comment