Former Dona Ana County Prisoner Gets $15.5 Million

Mar 6, 2013

The Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners has agreed to a $15.5 million settlement of the lawsuit filed on behalf of Stephen Slevin.  In his suit, Mr. Slevin successfully alleged that as a detainee at the Doña Ana County Detention Center, between August 2005 and June 2007, he was not provided adequate medical and mental healthcare.  A county press release says the Board of County Commissioners deeply regrets the harm Mr. Slevin suffered during this period. Over the past seven years, Doña Ana County says it has made significant improvements to detention center staffing, training, facilities and procedures.

In agreeing to the settlement, a county press release says Board of County Commissioners took into consideration the risks of the appeals outcomes, as well as the total potential costs had the $22 million jury verdict stood. Including interest, attorneys’ fees and costs, the total could have reached in excess of $24 million. The county says it is not in a financial position to bear that kind of burden without the certainty of adverse implications to staffing and key program provisions.

As part of the settlement, Detention Center Director Chris Barela and former Medical Director Dan Zemek are released from personal liability in the verdict. The county says Barela has been the driving force for ongoing improvements to staffing and services within the facility since becoming director in December of 2005. Zemek was recognized in 2007 by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill for his contributions to addressing mental-health issues within the facility during his tenure.

Although substantial, the county says the settlement will not affect the long-term integrity or financial stability of Doña Ana County. The New Mexico Association of Counties will pay $6 million of the settlement. The county will pay the remainder out of cash reserves. The balance left in cash reserves will be sufficient to satisfy state mandates. However, loss of interest revenues based on past cash reserves will require careful financial management.

Doña Ana County is building a Crisis Triage Center that will help stabilize mentally-ill persons who have committed no crimes but who represent a danger to themselves or others in the eyes of law-enforcement professionals. The 12-bed center is scheduled to open for business on July 1, 2013.