If you drink and drive... we'll lock you in solitary confinement for 2 years! No court date, no doctor.
Night in the cells accidentally became two years in solitary
Suspected drunk driver wins $22m after he was forgotten, isolated – and terribly neglected
Guy Adams Author Biography
Saturday 28 January 2012
Stephen Slevin at the time of his arrest for drink driving in August 2005, left, and when he was released in May 2007, right
Slevin was driving along a rural highway in southern New Mexico in
August 2005 when traffic police pulled him over and arrested him on
suspicion of drink-driving, along with a string of other motoring
By the time all of the charges against him were
dismissed and Mr Slevin was released from custody, it was 2007. For
reasons that remain unclear, officials had forced him to spend the
intervening two years in solitary confinement.
During the ordeal,
he claims to have been denied access to basic washing facilities for
months at a time. He'd lost a third of his body weight, grown a beard
down to his chest and was suffering from bed sores. Prison officials had
also ignored his pleas to see a dentist, forcing him to pull out his
own tooth. They declined other requests for attention, including an
audience with a mental health professional. He duly became delirious and
says that by the time of his release he'd "been driven mad".
week, a jury in Albuquerque ordered Dona Ana County, which was
responsible for incarcerating Slevin without trial, to pay $22m (£14m)
in compensation. It was the largest award ever granted to a US prisoner
whose civil rights have been violated.
"Prison officials were
walking by me every day, watching me deteriorate," Mr Slevin, who still
from suffers post traumatic stress disorder, told reporters. The court
heard how he was originally arrested on suspicion of drink-driving and
"receiving a stolen vehicle". He was thrown into solitary confinement
after officers learned that he suffered from depression and decided he
might be suicidal.
Matthew Coyte, a civil-rights lawyer who
represented Mr Slevin, now 58, during the six-day trial, said he was
then "forgotten" and left to "decay".
In letters to staff at Dona
Ana County Jail, Mr Slevin claimed to be depressed and unable to sleep
in the solitary "pod" there. As time went on, he told them he'd begun
hallucinating. No doctor was called, but at the behest of a prison
nurse, who had a bachelor's degree in psychology but no medical
qualifications, he was given some sedatives. It wasn't until June 2007
that Mr Slevin went before a judge, at which point he was immediately
released into the mental health system on the grounds that he was by
then incapable of participating in his own defence.
throws an uncomfortable light on the use of solitary confinement in the
US justice system. At present, an estimated 50,000 inmates are housed in
such circumstances, sometimes for years at a time. Dona Ana County had
previously offered Mr Slevin $2m to drop his compensation case. It
pledged to appeal the $22m award, saying: "we believe we have strong
legal issues to raise."