As a candidate for the position of Texas County sheriff in 2012, James Sigman wrote in his profile he was running on the “integrity and professionalism” he would bring to the office. He said he would be a “sheriff with high moral character.”
Last Wednesday, he was arrested.
Sigman, 48, and his chief deputy, Jennifer H. Tomaszewski, 38, were both charged with first-degree felony assault, first-degree robbery, felony first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, felony unlawful use of a weapon, felony harassment, felony endangering the welfare of a child, second degree; misdemeanor misuse of official information by a public servant and misdemeanor false impersonation. They were arrested and within 24 hours both posted $500,000 for their releases.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Sigman and Tomaszewski were involved in a romantic relationship since she was hired in December 2016. He allowed her to impersonate an officer, threaten others and abuse inmates, authorities said.
Sigman is the first Texas County officeholder to be charged with a crime in 45 years. Former prosecutor Marvin Smith resigned in 1973 after allegations he accepted bribes to dismiss charges.
BECOMING TEXAS COUNTY SHERIFF
Sigman graduated from the Drury Police Academy in 1995. He served as both a full- and part-time deputy for former Texas County sheriffs Johnny Vandiver and Dean Belshe before joining the Cabool Police Department, where his brother, Gerald, is the chief. He worked there 14 years.
Running on the Republican Ticket for Texas County sheriff in August 2012, he narrowly won the three-person primary by edging Tim Ceplina 2,117-2,096. Sigman only won four precincts compared to six for Ceplina, who is now Houston’s police chief. But Sigman carried a 457-vote margin in his hometown of Cabool that proved to be the difference. A manual recount 13 days later confirmed the win.
The November election wasn’t close. Sigman easily defeated Democrat Melissa Dunn, a lieutenant with the sheriff’s department, 7,895-2,779 by sweeping every precinct in the county. He replaced Sheriff Carl Watson, who did not seek re-election.
Among Sigman’s early adjustments as leader of the Texas County Sheriff’s Department were changes to the jail menu –– “I didn’t see the need for name brands; we’re working on saving some money back there,” he said in January 2013 –– as well as new uniforms and vehicles. He named Wes Campbell his chief deputy.
Sigman was at the center of national headlines in February 2015 when a gunman murdered seven people in Tyrone before killing himself. With headlines emphasizing “shooting spree in rural Missouri” and “tiny town is reeling,” the blood trail that left the region reeling was among the top stories on Fox News, NBC, USA Today, Yahoo, Wall Street Journal and Google. The tragedy was also featured internationally by BBC and trended on Twitter and Facebook. Sigman and Sgt. Jeff Kinder of the Missouri State Highway Patrol were the official spokespersons as cameras and reporters crammed into the lobby of the Texas County Justice. The video was carried live across regional and national networks, including CNN.
Sigman filed for re-election in February 2016. He ran unopposed.
“I truly enjoy my job,” Sigman said at the time. “Serving the people of Texas County, working for and with them is very important to me. I feel like I am where I belong. When my family and I first talked about me running for sheriff four years ago, I knew that was what I was supposed to do. Law enforcement is where I belong.”
SECOND TERM MARRED BY ESCAPES, ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP
Early in Sigman’s second term, an accused murderer escaped from the Texas County Jail. Sigman said “human error” and “failure to follow protocol” allowed Daniel G. Campbell to run out a propped open back door of the facility in November 2016. He was recaptured 16 hours later and two jail employees were fired.
That next month, on Dec. 14, 2016, Sigman hired Tomaszewski. The former manager of the Bark Plaza Pet Hotel and grooming facility in Houston and a restaurant employee, she had no law enforcement training. She joined the Texas County Sheriff’s Department as a jailer.
A second escape occurred in late June 2017 when Christopher Hunt overpowered an officer as he was being returned to Texas County from a court appearance in Phelps County. Hunt stole the vehicle, changed clothes nearby and disappeared. He was apprehended several days later by U.S. Marshals in Lexington, Ky.
Following the escape, Pam Tripp resigned as jail administrator. Sigman replaced her with Tomaszewski. The move was questioned by the department’s deputies, who during a meeting with Sigman threatened to walk out. She was placed on paid leave but later returned to the same position. The deputies resigned in the following months –– among about 50 employees who resigned or were fired since May 1, 2017.
Sigman declined to discuss the situation when requested to comment on the rash of changes in personnel. On Jan. 19, 2018, he posted a long response on his personal Facebook page.
“Texas County, there have been many changes since June when I had a prisoner escape. Many of these changes have been met with resistance and not everyone agrees with me on every decision,” Sigman wrote. “… Members of my staff and I who are dedicated to serving Texas County have endured rumors and criticism for this. At the end of the day, though, those who know me, know I am not a politician and I am not there to be the good ole boy sheriff.”
Sigman made reference to the fact some employees had left and some may continue to leave, but he would continue to serve the county.
“Bottom line is sometimes people don’t agree, sometimes rumors spread, sometimes articles are written that you have to question, why?” Sigman wrote. “Sometimes people forget who they are and just what their authority is, and sometimes people just want to move on, and sometimes people have an evil intent and try to create problems where problems don’t exist.
“… Everyone who knows me, knows I hate corruption and politics.”
MISTRESS COMMITS ALLEGED CRIMES
Tomaszewski officially became a law enforcement officer in May 2018 when she graduated from the Missouri Sheriff’s Association Academy in West Plains. But the probable cause statement from the patrol says she played the role of an officer long before that time. And Sigman allowed it, the patrol said.
Authorities said Tomaszewski regularly wore a uniform similar to those of licensed Texas County deputies and carried a department-issued Glock given to her by Sigman and AR-15 that he normally used. She went on ride-alongs and conducted search warrants with the sheriff.
The patrol’s report said Tomaszewski pointed a firearm at five citizens, including a 1-year-old, during the execution of a June 2017 search warrant and attempted to arrest a man at gunpoint. She was not yet a deputy.
After her promotion to jail administrator, the patrol said Tomaszewski was involved in several physical altercations and threatened an inmate’s life. She once struck a man described as having “the mental capacity of a 9-year-old” with her elbows while he was unconscious, authorities said. She told a corrections officer she was “trying to bust his eardrum out.”
Authorities said Sigman was present for each moment and did not intervene. Both are also accused of bringing a minor into the Texas County Jail on multiple occasions around dangerous inmates. Sigman once marked the child’s name off the visitor’s log, according to evidence.
At some point, the two began living together. The same Eunice address was listed on the charging documents for both of them. In October 2017, Sigman’s wife, Leigh Ann, filed for divorce. The marriage was dissolved in January 2018.
CHARGES LEVIED, REMOVAL SOUGHT
Months worth of apparent criminal behavior ended last Wednesday when a grand jury indicted Sigman and Tomaszewski. They were arrested by the patrol around 5 p.m. inside the Texas County Justice Center. Sigman was taken to the Greene County Jail in Springfield, and Tomaszewski was held in the Shannon County Jail.
Sigman’s position was filled by Texas County Coroner Marie Lasater, who was at his desk early last Thursday morning as acting sheriff. By that afternoon, special prosecutor Don Trotter, of Lawrence County, filed paperwork seeking to remove Sigman from office. He had 10 days to respond and is barred from performing the duties as sheriff.
New bond terms were issued to both Sigman and Tomaszewski last Thursday evening. They were ordered to not have contact with Lasater or any employee with the sheriff’s department. They were also not to be present on any Texas County government property except for a scheduled court day. Multiple officers representing the patrol and Houston Police Department were present Friday morning at the justice center. They later moved a couple blocks south on Grand Avenue to the Texas County Administrative Center.
Friday afternoon, the Missouri Department of Public Safety suspended the licenses of Sigman and Tomaszewski. They have the opportunity to petition the decision. Both appeared for arraignment on the criminal charges Tuesday morning in Texas County. Neither had an attorney.