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Doña Ana County residents outraged over $15 million settlement

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Mar 12 2013 10:27:14 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 06:37:00 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Viña reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

Doña Ana County commissioners say they've received a lot of backlash after settling a lawsuit for $15.5 million.

Board chair Karen Perez addressed the issue at Tuesday's commissioners meeting, the first since the settlement was announced.

She said phones in county offices have been ringing off the hook with residents angry about the settlement.

"This shouldn't have happened under any circumstances and now we are the people in DAC are seeing $15 million and there has to be accountability," said Doña Ana County resident J.D. Rodriguez.

The county is paying out one of the largest federal civil rights awards in history: $15.5 million to Stephen Slevin, a former inmate at the Doña Ana County Detention center who was locked in solitary confinement for nearly two years without ever being convicted.

Residents blame the detention center administrator, Chris Barela. County commissioners place the blame on "a broken system."

"Mr. Barela has worked with his staff and DA's office and all of the cogs in the wheel of criminal justice for seven years to make enormous improvements at the detention center. Are we perfect? No. Are we ever going to be perfect? No," Perez said.

Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio told ABC-6 he's working hard to find solutions. He said he's working with the jail, the public defender's office and many other entities to clear the jail of people who should not be locked up.

"Not only do I understand their outrage, I join their outrage. (We're going to) identify the people when they get to jail, keep a record of who's there and how long. If somebody seems to be languishing or the process is not moving forward, we're going to take steps to move that case forward," D'Antonio said.

With new inmates coming in each day, county officials hope they can work together to prevent another case like Slevin's.

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