Man held in solitary two years without trial cannot remember ordeal
A New Mexico man, who expects to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for the rest of his life, was awarded $22 million last week after he was tossed in solitary confinement for two years and never given a trial, but he remembers very little of the ordeal, Raw Story has learned.
In August of 2005, Stephen Slevin was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). He spent most of the next two years in the Dona Ana County Detention Center without his case ever going before a judge.
Slevin was rarely allowed to go outside, fungus grew underneath his skin and his toenails curled around his foot because they were so long. At one point, he even had to pull his own tooth.
“He can’t really remember any of it,” Dart Society Reports’ Susan Greene, who interviewed Slevin, told Raw Story. “It’s all sort of lost in his mind, which is a typical trauma response, a pretty extreme though not unheard of trauma response.”
Attorney Matt Coyte explained to MSNBC.com that police had mistakenly believed that Slevin had stolen the car he was driving when police pulled him over and arrested him for a DWI. Slevin informed authorities that he had been depressed, but instead of getting mental help, he found himself on suicide watch in a padded cell. Three days later, he was transferred to solitary confinement.
“Their policy is to then just put [detainees with mental health issues] in solitary,” Coyte said. “He disappeared into delirium, and his mental illness was made worse by being isolated from human contact and a lack of medical care.”
“Your insanity builds. Some people holler or throw feces out their cell doors,” he continued. “Others rock back and forth under a blanket for a year or more, which is what my client did.”
Greene told Raw Story that Slevin had “about 18 months of time that he just doesn’t really remember.”
“At one point, he sort of snapped out of it. … It was like Rip Van Winkle. He just sort of woke up and realized, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been in here a long time.’”
“When you speak with him it’s like that he knows that he’s gone through this whole lawsuit,” she added. “He obviously knows that this has all happened. A lot of my reporting around solitary is to get people to explain the tedium of it, how boring it is. With Mr. Slevin, it’s the exact opposite. He has no recollection of it.”
In a short interview with KOB, Slevin said the lawsuit was “never about the money.”
“We made a statement about what happened to me,” he explained. “Prison officials were walking by me every day, watching me deteriorate. … Day after day after day, they did nothing, nothing at all, to get me any help.”
Dona Ana County officials have had little to say about the case publicly, refusing to even divulge whether any employee had been reprimanded for Slevin’s treatment. “We do not discuss personnel issues,” Dona Ana County public information director Jess Williams said.
On Friday, Williams pushed back against criticism over conditions at the jail by offering media a 45-minute tour to prove “that this is not the rat hole it has been portrayed to be.”
“The conditions in this facility are safe,” he insisted. “We work very hard to make sure the conditions in this facility are safe.”
The county has promised to appeal the verdict.
Watch this video from KOB, broadcast Jan. 25, 2012.