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RACINE — An investigation by the Racine County Human Services Department into possible child and animal neglect led to 40 criminal charges filed this week against a Racine couple after a disturbing scene played itself out in July.

Steven Burdo, 39, and Sandra Lemke, 38, remain in custody in the Racine County Jail, each on a $20,000 cash bond. Both are charged with four felony counts of chronic neglect of a child, two felony counts of mistreatment of animals, 18 misdemeanor counts of negligently providing improper animal shelter sanitation and 16 misdemeanor counts of mistreatment of animals.

The six felony charges carry a possible potential prison term of 31 years and a $44,000 fine. Each of the 34 misdemeanor counts carry a possible nine months in the county jail and a $10,000 fine.

The criminal complaint: child neglect, animal neglect and mistreatment in the home

Officials responded to the home on Lorraine Avenue, where the defendants and three children, ages 10, 8 and 5 resided. Lemke told officials that she had “let the home go” due to being overwhelmed with it and her children.

Upon entering the home, officials reported: “The immediate smell of urine and feces was pungent and almost suffocating.” There also had not been any electricity or water in the home for some time, the complaint states.

As the worker climbed through the layers of soiled and stiff clothing, rotten food, garbage and disheveled furniture to further enter the home, “the smell became more acrid.” Officials also reported numerous painters’ buckets filled to the brim with what they suspected were human feces and human urine.

A broken toilet was found in the middle of the hallway, completely filled with feces.

Lemke said the entire family slept in the living room on the couch and chairs. The couch was covered in cigarettes, ash, moldy food, bugs and grime. On the couch were two pillows that were brown and moldy, and one “ragged” blanket for the children to share, the complaint states.

Further investigation revealed two deceased dogs in a child’s bedroom, which led officials to call a humane officer to the home. The dogs appeared to have been dead for some time and were actively going through the decaying process. Lemke admitted she knew the dogs were dead, but had not made any efforts to remove them, even though they were found 30 feet from where her children slept.

Officials also removed at least 15 live cats and kittens and one live dog from the home, including some kittens that were found in Rubbermaid bins covered with feces. All 16 animals were taken to the Wisconsin Humane Society, where they were treated for a variety of ailments.

The overall condition of the home was deemed “completely unsanitary, neglectful and vile,” and the health department condemned it and deemed it unfit for human habitation.

According to health department records, a total of nine reports at the home were received from Sept. 26, 2014, to July 19, 2023. Each of the previous complaints portrayed a similar situation – a dirty home, the children were dirty and smelled of urine, dirty clothes and inappropriate food at school and in the home.

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