The family of a man who was beaten to death by a cellmate inside the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail has filed a $5 million settlement demand, alleging a systemic failure to keep pre-trial detainees safe.
An attorney for the mother and children of Steven Lemus filed the notice of claim against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Maricopa County Correctional Health Services, and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
“Maricopa County left Steven as a sitting duck in a cell with a deranged mentally-ill man,” said attorney Larry Wulkan, during an interview with ABC15.
The sheriff’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Lemus, who was being held on a drug charge, was killed on March 30, 2022.
Jail surveillance video and internal records show another inmate, Michael Schroeder, brutally attacked Lemus less than 24 hours after being placed in a cell together.
Schroeder had been exhibiting signs of erratic behavior and threats in the week up to the attack; and he had repeatedly warned officers to not place any other inmates in his cell, records show.
Schroeder sent a final warning to officers minutes before he killed Lemus.
“There were approximately 8 minutes that elapsed between the time Mr. Schroeder called the jail’s guards and told them, ‘If you don’t get him out of this cell, I’m going to fuck him up,’ and when he made a second call and told them, ‘come and get the body,’" Wulkan said. “And when the guards got to the cell, they saw that Steven had been beaten, had been strangled, and had a pencil stuck in his eye.”
Schroeder admitted to killing Lemus in interviews with investigators shortly after the attack.
Surveillance video obtained by ABC15 doesn’t provide a direct view into the cell, but it shows a struggle going on inside. At one point, Schroeder can be seen removing a bed sheet from his mattress.
The notice of claim also highlights a handful of other similar cases inside Maricopa County jails.
Earlier this year, the county settled a jail beating case for a record amount: $11.75 million.
In that case, an inmate attacked Brian Ortiz, who was stomped, kicked, and punched roughly 50 times. It took jail staff nearly two hours to get Ortiz into an ambulance.
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.