Two Years in Solitary Confinement Is Worth $15.5 Million, These Days

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Steven Slevin was depressed when police arrested him on a DWI charge. Being thrown into a padded room, entirely alone, for 22 months without a trial did not help. Now, he's a multi-millionaire. Quite unfortunately, the 59-year-old might not be around to spend the money, since he has lung cancer and as already survived longer than doctor's predicted. Even more unfortunately, the final settlement is significantly less that the $22 million settlement awarded to Slevin in federal court last year. Doña Ana County, New Mexico, where Slevin was imprisoned, called the $22 million settlement excessive. And even though a federal judge upheld the original settlement amount, Slevin finally agreed to take a $15.5 million settlement and be done with the whole horrid affair.

Can you blame him? This poor guy got pulled over in 2005 after having a few drinks, and the cops say that his car is stolen. Slevin and his lawyers maintain that it was borrowed from a friend. Drunk driving and stealing cars are both bad crimes. They're also crimes that Slevin was never convicted of, because he never got a trial. He never even saw a judge. The county literally locked him up and threw away the key. During his imprisonment, Slevin says that he was ignored for such long stretches of time that he was forced to pull out his own tooth, since he wasn't allowed to see a dentist. According to NBC News, "his toenails growing so long that they curled around his foot, and fungus festering on his skin because he was deprived of showers." Again, this is without ever seeing a judge or being formally convicted of any crimes. The Board of County Commissioners says "it deeply regrets the harm Mr. Slevin suffered during this period."

One way or another, New Mexico's taxpayers are going to end up paying for this one. The first $6 million will come out of the New Mexico Association of Counties pocket, but the rest will come from the coffers of Doña Ana County. There's some deeper message about the responsibility of democracy in here, but we're having a hard time finding it amidst the bloody tooth, the curling toenails and fungus-covered skin. Oh, and the PTSD, too.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.