Jury Awards $22 Million to Pre-trial Detainee For Inhumane Treatment

Steven Slevin, 57, was arrested for a DUI and related minor offenses in New Mexico in 2005. He spent two years in solitary at the Dona Ana County Detention Facility. He was not provided mental health or medical care. Even his request to see a dentist was refused -- resulting in him being forced to pull his own tooth.

A federal jury has awarded him $22 million for the inhumane treatment. [More...]

He ended up in solitary confinement because he was suffering from depression and someone checked a box on a form indicating he was suicidal....[He] was given some drugs for depression but never saw a mental health professional....[He] wrote letters for months seeking help, but they were ignored.

He was never convicted and released in 2007. His lawyer says:

He was stuck in a 6-foot-by-11-foot cell with a concrete bench for a bed. And he sat in that cell. We had documentary evidence that he didn't get out for anything—for recreation, a shower—for months at a time."

Dona Ana County (Las Cruces) plans to appeal. The jail claims to have medical staff. And it certainly had the ability to observe prisoners. From its website:

The adult detention facility differs from a traditional linear jail in that there are no bars separating officers and inmates. Instead, they are separated by glass partitions, which allow officers to maintain continuous observation of all inmates and to ensure that inmates are constantly aware that they are under observation.

Most of the 800 inmates are pre-trial detainees.

A Las Cruces news report is here.

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    wow (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by TeresaInPa on Wed Jan 25, 2012 at 07:18:35 PM EST
    this poor man deserves every cent of that 22 million and more.  I can't imagine how burnt out and callous you would have to become to allow some one in your custody to be treated that way.

    yes, wow (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by ZtoA on Wed Jan 25, 2012 at 08:55:13 PM EST
    I don't usually comment just to express a reaction but this is amazing.

    Absolutely horrible (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Towanda on Wed Jan 25, 2012 at 09:18:10 PM EST
    and some reports state that he simply was "forgotten" for almost two years, a reason why his requests were ignored.  I wish that I also had found any word that the facility was closely investigated by now, as who knows how many others may have been subjected to such treatment in the five years since his release and before this attention, at last?

    I read that this $22 milion awarded yesterday was a record for violation of civil rights.  And then came this $25 million award today:

    "A federal jury in Chicago on Tuesday awarded $25 million to a man who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, and whose lawyer has a similar case pending. . . .  Thaddeus Jimenez was 13 when he was arrested in a 1993 killing. Another man confessed to the murder on tape not long after Jimenez was charged, but prosecutors didn't believe it. Years later, other prosecutors reopened the case after work by the Northwestern University's wrongful conviction project. . . .  He was released in 2009.

    "The winning attorney, Jon Loevy, also represents a man suing the city of Milwaukee for his wrongful conviction that was finally cleared up during investigation of serial killer Walter Ellis.  Chaunte Ott spent 13 years of a life sentence in prison for murder . . . before his release in 2009. An appeals court ordered a new trial after investigators linked DNA from the Payne case and others to Ellis. . . .  Ott filed his own civil rights case in 2009, claiming several police officials conspired to frame him."

    Lets hope he sees the cash... (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 11:06:40 AM EST
    jury awards have a way of getting seriously reduced on appeal...especially when the bad actor is the state or a corporation.

    That was my first thought too, kdog (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Edger on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 11:13:01 AM EST
    It's one thing to get the judgement and that's great - I'm he did, he deserves it.

    But it's another thing to get paid....


    The "Hot Coffee"... (none / 0) (#10)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 11:26:48 AM EST
    doc on HBO opened my eyes on that sh*t...getting a jury award is less than half the battle.

    Yeah - I don't know how that works (none / 0) (#12)
    by Edger on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 11:29:06 AM EST
    How does he enforce the judgement?

    Most governmental entities either have (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by scribe on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 12:01:10 PM EST
    insurance or participate in self-insurance pool arrangements.  The governmental entities I formerly worked for had a centralized office serving all the different governmental entities that participated in the pool, where they had professional adjusters and risk managers.

    The insurance is usually purchased from politically connected insurance brokers who get the contracts as a result of pull.  

    In the event the judgment exceeds the policy limits or coverage, the governmental entities' property is subject to execution just like any other civil defendant's.  State budget laws may require balanced budgets;  most governmental entities will have a reserve for civil judgments set up as a line item in their annual budgets.  In the event their liability exceeds the allocated amount, several things can happen.  

    1.  The judgment creditor can work out a deal with the judgment debtor governmental entity to accept payments over time.
    2.  The judgment creditor can execute upon proceeds and receipts coming in to the government, i.e., as people pay their taxes, he can get a hand on them.  Whether the judge will rule in his favor come the inevitable challenge by the governmental entity ("he's taking the money from the school lunches" or similar twaddle) is another story.  But he does have a lien on it.
    3.  The judgment creditor can, in theory, execute and take governmental property like buildings and such.  If there is vacant, non-park land, that might fly.  Seizing the courthouse won't.
    4.  The governmental entity can float some bonds to pay the judgment.
    5.  The governmental entity can raise taxes to pay the judgment.  This is the one that the governmental entity waves about first and loudest, even though in practice it is the last resort.

    In any event, if the governmental entity (or any judgment debtor, for that matter) owing money on a federal court judgment balks, I've found that asking their lawyer "Can we work this out or do I have to send in the US Marshals?" (The Marshals execute federal court judgments) usually moves them pretty quickly.

    State of CA is self insured. (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by oculus on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 02:04:19 PM EST
    Some judgments and/ or settlements require approval by state legislature. Most don't.

    Thanks for that explanation , scribe (none / 0) (#14)
    by Edger on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 12:08:37 PM EST
    Does that mean Steven Slevin has a good chance of collecting?

    No. (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by scribe on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 05:11:56 PM EST
    You have to assume you have no chance of collecting until the check clears and even then until the time for a bankruptcy court avoiding preferential transfers has passed, and then act accordingly to collect on your judgment.

    Also, remember an old watchword of plaintiffs' attorneys:  "little people get little justice".  Justice in the civil courts being measured in dollars, you can see where this is going, b/c he is nothing if not one of the little people.

    Enforcing that watchword is the duty of trial judges granting post-trial motions for remittitur and/or new trial and of appellate judges threatening to grant a new trial or summarily reverse ... if the plaintiff doesn't settle for less.


    this is called "piling on", (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by cpinva on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 12:48:38 PM EST
    possession of a stolen vehicle, aggravated driving while under the influence, driving with a suspended license, possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and improper use of registration

    a tactic utilized in both criminal & civil litigation. the purpose is to get the target to agree to plead (or settle out of court) to a minor issue, in return for dropping everything else. it's very cost-effective (economies of scale), as the marginal cost of including additional charges is negligible. the potential savings are huge, because actually taking a case to trial is expensive, for all parties concerned.

    it isn't at all clear to me, based on the reports, that mr. slevin was ever actually tried, they just say he wasn't convicted. that isn't the same thing as being tried and found not guilty. were the charges eventually dropped? this seems more likely, once they found out he'd been left to rot for 2 years, in pre-trial detention. they hoped he wouldn't file a civil suit against them.

    so much for that whole "speedy trial" thing, in the constitution.

    Yeh, the tactic may work only (none / 0) (#17)
    by Towanda on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 02:45:35 PM EST
    if the charges come into the courtroom, with the defendant.

    Reports I read said that he never ever got into court, got before a judge, got given a lawyer, etc.  He just was lost in the (excuse for a) system there for almost two years -- a reason why his requests also were ignored, because he didn't exist, so the (excuse for a) system said.

    Spouse and I already had decided, based on dire reports from friends as well as reading of others stopped in Arizona, that we never will go there.  Last night, reading this, we scratched New Mexico, too.  Too bad, as we had read wonderful things about Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and more -- and we have relatives there as well.  But they just will have to drive to see us.


    Yes, all nice (none / 0) (#19)
    by MKS on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 03:30:49 PM EST
    But Las Cruces/Silver City is even more beatiful and "enchanting," as they say.

    Silver City has drawn a lot artsy East Coast retirees, which seems a little surreal.

    I think New Mexico is the most beautiful state.  And so do Gus and Walter White.


    Or, you can look at in terms (none / 0) (#20)
    by MKS on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 03:35:14 PM EST
    of the good citizens of New Mexcio sending a mulit-million dollar message.

    Just think if the trial were held in the South.  


    I have (none / 0) (#22)
    by NYShooter on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 06:57:55 PM EST
     a little experience with civil lawsuits.

    First of all, I agree with everyone else here who suggested that winning the lawsuit is but a small step in the labyrinth towards final payment. If this were individual to individual this plaintiff would almost certainly receive nothing. Once the court says to the plaintiff, "you won," their job is finished. Now you're on your own to try and collect it. Generally, the next step would be for the defendant to file for bankruptcy, and even though everyone knows it's a sham filing, it will be successful. Yes, there are laws against phony bankruptcies, and fraudulent conveyances, but it's up to you to prove it. Don't look to the court system for any help.

    Of course, the biggest problem is legal representation. Lawyers don't work for free, and unless you have an open and shut, personal injury case where the attorney would represent you for a rather large slice of your award, contingency, you have to foot the countless thousands of dollars it will take up front.

    So, not to drag this out, and since this is a government defendant case, the question I would have as to the plaintiff's chance for ultimate success is, who will represent him, and what is the payment arrangement?


    I'll probably retire to NM (none / 0) (#23)
    by sj on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 07:26:47 PM EST
    when the time comes.  There is some family land that I would like to build on.  But there is a LOT of poverty there.  I would imagine the authorities could get accustomed to not having to account for their actions.

    New Mexico <em>is </em>beautiful in its stark way.  The sky seems bluer there although I don't know why.  But the huge artist community that has congregated there would agree, I think.  

    And, apparently, I've lost italics in Firefox as well.


    Spin galore (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Wed Jan 25, 2012 at 10:58:10 PM EST
    Sure people should get medical treatment in jail, but how do you turn:
    "Former inmate Stephen R. Slevin, now 57, of Virginia Beach, Va., was charged in August, 2005, with possession of a stolen vehicle, aggravated driving while under the influence, driving with a suspended license, possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and improper use of registration, according to court records."
    (from the link)
    into "Steven Slevin, 57, was arrested for a DUI and related minor offenses..." (from your blog post)?

    You read that he was (5.00 / 0) (#5)
    by sj on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 12:00:02 AM EST
    never convicted, right?  Who is spinning here?  And, for your information, those are minor related offenses.

    Oh No! (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by NYShooter on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 02:15:37 AM EST
    driving with a suspended license?????

    Thank god there's a death penalty.


    Let's keep working on your comment (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Towanda on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 10:54:27 AM EST
    with a bit of a rewrite.  How about starting with:

    Sure, people in jail should get to see a judge sometime in two years. . . .

    What do you think?  Better?



    The 'Stolen' Car Was Borrowed From A Friend (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 11:28:20 AM EST
    But the police never bothered to find that out.

    Las Cruces is a wonderful (none / 0) (#18)
    by MKS on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 03:23:51 PM EST
    town and not at all inclined to sadism.

    What a terrible blot on their name.