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Stephen Slevin: $15.5 million awarded in solitary confinement case

Stephen Slevin was awarded $15.5 million — reduced on appeal from the original $22 million verdict — after spending two years in solitary confinement without a trial.

By Susan Montoya BryanAssociated Press / March 7, 2013

This composite shows Stephen Slevin before and after he spent almost two years in solitary confinement in a county jail in New Mexico.

Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department / AP

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

A $15.5 million settlement has been reached to end the legal battle over the case of a U.S. man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial and was so neglected that he took out his own tooth.

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Stephen R. Slevin spent 22 months in a New Mexico county jail after being arrested for drunken driving but was never convicted, according to his lawsuit.

Attorney Matthew Coyte said his client ended up in solitary confinement after someone noted he was suicidal. He was so neglected, Coyte said, he was left in his cell for months at a time, had untreated dental problems and toenails that grew so long they curled under his feet.

The settlement announced Thursday stems from mediation ordered by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Dona Ana County was appealing a lower court decision that upheld a $22 million judgment that was awarded last year to former inmate Stephen R. Slevin.

That verdict was one of the largest federal civil rights settlements in history.

The county's board of commissioners said in a statement that it regrets the harm Slevin suffered while in custody between August 2005 and June 2007.

"Over the past seven years, Dona Ana County has made significant improvements to detention center staffing, training, facilities and procedures," the county said. "Dona Ana County is committed to ensuring consistent and appropriate treatment of every detainee in its care."

The county defended its operation of the jail following the initial $22 million judgment in January 2012. It argued that Slevin was offered a chance to join the general jail population, but declined and the only option was to place him in one of the jail's segregation cells.

The county had also said that Slevin's criminal history at the time of his arrest included out-of-state convictions for robberies, burglaries, drunken driving, receiving stolen property, firearms violations and, possession of drugs.

As part of the settlement, Slevin gave up the punitive damage award but did not give up any of his other compensation, Coyte said Tuesday. He called it a "long and hard fight."

"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," Coyte said. "I only hope they follow through on their promise to do better."

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