A man who was left languishing in solitary confinement for two years after he was arrested for drink driving has won a $15.5m (£10.4m) payout after suing the prison in New Mexico.
Stephen Slevin, 59, was pulled over by police in 2005 and taken to the Dona Ana Detention Centre. He was never tried or convicted, but ended up in solitary confinement after being classed as suicidal.
For the next 22 months, he was consigned to a segregation cell with prison officials neglecting to provide medical help, to the point where he says he was forced to pull out his own tooth because of untreated dental problems.
He was often refused permission to take a shower, and did not always get the daily one-hour break outside the cell mandated by law for prisoners in solitary confinement. He said his toenails grew so long that they curled around his foot.
The result was that by the time he left the jail, Slevin, who entered prison with short hair and a light stubble, had long, unkempt locks and an overgrown white beard.
Earlier this year, a lower court jury awarded him $22m in his case against local authorities in Dona Ana County. But officials, who argued that Slevin was offered the chance to enter the general jail population but declined, appealed against the verdict and an appellate judge ordered both parties to enter mediation talks.
Slevin, who reportedly suffers from lung cancer, has now accepted $15.5m as compensation for his ordeal. The settlement is one of the largest prisoner civil liberty awards in US history.
“This settlement, although very large, does not give back to Mr Slevin what was taken from him,” his lawyer, Matthew Coyte, told the Associated Press.