The Best System Ever

This could never happen, so there really isn’t any need to discuss it. Except it did. Via NBC :

Stephen Slevin, 57, was arrested in August 2005 in New Mexico’s Dona Ana County, charged with aggravated driving while under the influence and possession of a stolen vehicle, although Slevin maintains the car was lent to him by a friend.

Slevin had one medical examination after being arrested and was labeled suicidal, his lawyer said. He was jailed in lieu of posting a $40,000 bond.

Slevin was put into a padded cell, then solitary confinement, where a prisoner is supposed to get an hour of exercise and sunlight a day, except when nobody bothers to take him out of the cell. Slevin was regularly forgotten. He remained in solitary for almost two years.

By the time Slevin got out of jail, his hair was shaggy and overgrown, his beard long, and his face pale and sunken, a drastic contrast from the clean-shaven booking photo taken of him when he was arrested two years prior.

During his confinement, he fell into deep depression. Solitary confinement is a form of sensory deprivation, which is tantamount to torture. But hey, he was accused of drunk driving, which is tantamount to being a bad guy.  He was denied medical care, and pulled out his own tooth.

And he was neither tried nor convicted of any crime.

There are a million questions about how something like this could possibly happen. Where was the court? Where was the lawyer. He had family, but across the country and unaware of what to do about this. Thankfully, Slevin wrote his sister so she knew where he was. Had he been so severely mentally ill that he failed to do so, he would have simply disappeared from the world without anyone knowing what became of him.  Bear in mind, he was driving cross-country, so there was nothing to suggest that he would be in solitary confinement in New Mexico.

Dona Ana County, New Mexico, settled a federal civil rights suit with Slevin for $15,5 million. The County has dedicated more funds to its jails, because it must have been a shortage of money that forced Slevin to pull his own tooth. Problem solved?

Dona Ana County officials were tight-lipped about the case, refusing to answer questions about whether any jail employees were reprimanded or fired over Slevin’s treatment.

“We do not discuss personnel issues,” Jess Williams, Dona Ana County’s public information director, told on Wednesday.

What happened isn’t merely outrageous or deplorable, but impossible.  Every pretense of the legal system says this can’t happen. We love our platitudes of justice and liberty, and cling to them with devotion knowing that they make us so much better than everyone else.

Slevin’s lawyer, Matt Coyte, offered some insight.

Coyte, Slevin’s attorney, said greed on the county’s part was partially to blame.

“Talk to the [Dona Ana] County Commissioners who were around in 2000 to 2004 who knew this stuff was going on, and didn’t care,” he said. “Another side to this case is this jail was built to make money housing federal detainees. This is a border town. There are a lot of federal detainees from immigration issues, and the jail charges the federal government a particular amount of money for each detainee.”

But for Coyte, Slevin’s attorney, there’s still one more change that needs to be made: Dona Ana County Jail’s warden.

“If you were in the trial and heard what the person who ran the facility said, you would be appalled,” Coyte said. “I get lots of people [inmates] calling from that jail asking for help. Am I pleased that they’ve spent more money in the jail? Absolutely. I’m pleased that Mr. Slevin’s case has made a difference in the jail. But the same people are running it, and it’s an attitude of how you run something.”

While this may suffice for one jail, for one detained defendant, there are a great many other people, from corrections officers to the judge, who get to play public servants so that something like this can’t possibly happen.  And yet it did. Stercus accidit? No. Absolutely not.

There neither is, nor can be, an excuse for this every happening in the United States of America, and every person along the line, even close to the line, is personally responsible for what happened to Stephen Slevin.  Because in the United States of America, this cannot happen.

H/T Turley

8 thoughts on “The Best System Ever

  1. SHG

    The word “unbelievable” is grossly overused hyperbole. In this case, it’s insufficient.

  2. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Greenfield, you are such a Debbie Downer – never, seemingly, to reflect on the silver (or in this case, gold)-lining of it all . . .

    Which is this: Stephen Slevin is now a rich, rich man!! He can afford the best mental health care in our fine country and be coiffed by Christophe at $600 a shot, if he so chooses. In only two years!! Better ROI than any infomercial has ever promised . . .

    Reflect on your recent post regarding wealth distribution for a moment. Given that reality, I reckon that at least 80% of your fellow Americans would take Stephen’s deal in a New York minute; prolly more like 99% . . .

    You just don’t get it, do you?? Mr. Slevin’s path was a one-way ticket to champagne wishes and caviar dreams – he’s livin’ the American dream, really . . .

    Where you tend to see nightmares, I see only dreams . . .

    U.S.A. . . U.S.A. . . U.S.A. . .

  3. Bruce Coulson

    Putting more money into the jail is like putting more gas in a car with bad spark plugs; it might run a little longer, but no better. The same would be true even if you replaced the current administration. (Although things might change for a little better, for a while, if that happened…)

    This is a problem caused by how the system is designed and operated. To change things, that system needs to be altered; not (necessarily) the personnel minding the store. (Again, removing some people might be a good thing…but it’s not enough.)

  4. SHG

    I really am a Debbie Downer. I’m sure a good haircut (and maybe some new clothes?) will do him wonders.

  5. SHG

    I agree. The problem isn’t money. It’s not even the people, though a change would send a much-needed message. The problem is far more fundamental about the treatment of human beings. It doesn’t cost more to give a damn.

  6. Anonymous

    The baby needs to be thrown out with the bathwater.

    It’s impossible to change human nature, but with enough pressure, the lawyer/legislators who passed the laws which make driving under the influence illegal just might see the wisdom of changing the law to reflect that DUI should only be important if someone’s DUI results in hurting someone or damaging property…and snarky hair splitting and/or strawman issues do not belong in responses to this idea.

    Thank you for your support of allowing comments you might disagree with to still be published.

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