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Gila County faces 4th claim citing jail abuses against mentally ill inmates

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Posted at 10:15 PM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-13 01:15:18-04

GLOBE, AZ — A fourth family is now taking legal action against the Gila County Jail in Globe saying jail staff failed to provide proper psychiatric care to inmates with mental illnesses.

Anthony Lee Stewart, 23, who had schizophrenia, was jailed more than three months before he died by suicide in April. An autopsy said he hanged himself in his cell.

Anthony’s mom, Valerie Stewart believes jail staff and the Gila County sheriff are responsible for his death. She has filed a notice of claim, the precursor to a lawsuit, asking for a $1.5 million settlement.

“She’s frayed,” Valerie’s attorney Jason Kelly said. “She’s still processing. She's still trying to figure out what happened.”

Anthony was arrested in January for allegedly shoplifting Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and other items from a Walmart. An off-duty officer working security said Anthony also tried to run him over in a cart during the getaway. That officer shot at, but did not hit Anthony.

After Anthony was taken into custody, his mom said she tried to tell authorities her son needed his medication for schizophrenia.

“Valerie is adamant that she was religiously calling trying to get her son some help,” Kelly said.

Her notice of claim alleges the jail failed to follow rules from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. It claims Anthony did not get proper psychiatric care, nutrition, and supervision.

“The jail claims everything is still under investigation and hasn't given us any information,“ Kelly said.

The notice of claim cites evidence of mistreatment. Anthony did not seem oriented to time or place in an April 4 video visit with his mom, according to the claim. The next day, he made a suicide attempt, was treated at a hospital, and was returned to the jail.

At his death, Anthony had lost weight, which indicated he was not receiving proper care and meals, according to the notice of claim.

The notice of claim also said Anthony was heard wailing in his cell, made an unprovoked attack on staff, and was held in a restraint chair after his suicide attempt, all indications his schizophrenia was not being properly managed.

Anthony Stewart died April 21. Two days earlier he was found unconscious in his cell after he hanged himself.

The ABC15 Investigators exposed prior cruel and unusual punishment inside the Gila County Jail against other people diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Tamara Barnicoat was denied running water for days and ended up drinking out of the toilet in 2019. She was also held without charges for 27 days. Barnicoat settled her lawsuit with the county in July. One jail employee was demoted for failing to note he shut off Barnicoat’s water, and the sheriff promised better training.

The ABC15 investigators exposed how Memory Burns deteriorated in a cell for weeks in 2020 after jail staff failed to release her to a mental health facility despite a judge's order.

Gene “Chad” Beason died by suicide on Christmas day 2018. He was hearing voices prior to his death, but he did not receive psychiatric care. Jail staff skipped checking his cell as Beason hanged himself and died. Detention officer Lance Goad resigned during the internal investigation. Four others were suspended without pay.

The Stewarts' lawyer said there is a pattern.

“Most of the inmates in jail are awaiting trial," Kelley said. “They're considered innocent because they haven't been proven guilty, and they're not receiving the medical care that they'd be receiving on the other side of the wall.“

Nearly six months ago, just days after Anthony’s death, the ABC15 Investigators also made public records requests for records about Anthony's mental health care and supervision inside the jail. Most of that request has been denied citing an ongoing internal investigation.

On Friday, the ABC15 Investigators reached out the Gila County Sheriff’s Office seeking comment on the notice of claim. A lawyer representing GCSO acknowledged the request, and she indicated a response about the status of the internal investigation could come later this week.