A federal lawsuit seeking $2.5 million alleges that former Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and the Texas County Sheriff’s Department created a miserable environment for a former inmate during his incarceration.
James E. Denny, 41, filed the lawsuit Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court, and he alleges that despite attempts to file grievances and write letters to other county officials, nothing was ever done. Denny, who spent time in the county jail in December 2017 and January 2018 and is gay, says he tried to file grievances forms but he was blocked.
In the 12-page filing, Denny describes an incident where Sigman and the then jail administrator Jennifer Tomaszewski, took him into a small closet and made physical threats again him for attempting to write the media.
Denny, who was held on a drug charge and since been released from a state prison, said “Sheriff Sigman made physical threats against me for trying to report discrimination and drug use by his staff to the media.” Denny adds, “He attempted to use administrative remedies to report discrimination. My claim was ignored and at times thrown away.”
In lawsuit filed in federal court in Springfield, Denny alleges:
•Denny was punished and placed in a lockdown cell after reporting to jail staff that he was being harassed by a fellow inmate. “I’m able to defend myself. The person guilty of harassment should have been removed, not me.”
•A member of the custody staff moved him into an area where sex offenders are housed and a staff member bragged how he would like it “with the other freaks.” Denny said he could have been attacked and feared he might be beaten or killed.
•He was deprived of his own money to buy stamps or telephone time to contact people about his case or personal affairs. “The staff joked about keeping me from being able to write or call people to report harassment abuse and discrimination,” he writes. “Custody staff went out of their way to cause stress and emotional distress in my life.”
•The staff stopped giving him forms to report problems and the jail administrator told him “she didn’t have to even allow me the right to use administrative remedies if she did not want to.” Denny said he later wrote the county prosecutor, circuit clerk and county commission, but never heard from them.
Denny, whose federal lawsuit is the second against Sigman, calls his treatment a “hate crime.”
“Since I am a protected class American, I view this behavior to be a hate crime against the son of a U.S. military veteran. My mom gave her service for all Americans, with no regard to race, color or sexual orientation.”
Denny said he informed state prison officials, upon his arrival from a drug conviction, that he was assaulted while in Texas County’s care and a victim of discrimination.
Denny seeks $500,000 from Sigman and $2 million from Texas County.
Harry A. Scheina III, a former detainee at the jail at the Texas County Justice Center in Houston, said in a May 29 federal lawsuit after arriving for placement in the Missouri Department of Corrections system, that the county jail staff refused to provide paperwork to file a grievance and the former sheriff assaulted him. He is seeking $1 million.
Sigman and Tomaszewski were indicted in July by a county grand jury on numerous charges. They are free on bond. The Texas County Commission appointed a sheriff and an election to fill Sigman’s remaining term is next month.