A lot has unfolded since July 18, 2018 – a moment the commission labeled a “dark day for Texas County” in a news release. There’s been a special election, installation of a new sheriff and rebuilding of a shell of a department.
Life has seemingly moved on.
But the cloud that hung over Texas County and its top law enforcement agency continues to linger in the background as the criminal case against its former sheriff continues.
As the one-year anniversary arrived of the arrests of James Sheriff and his then chief deputy and lover, Jennifer Tomaszewski, there has been no resolution in the court system of the allegations against them. Instead, it has been 12 months of motions, filings and continuances.
The beginning of the end, though, may be in sight.
In late May, Circuit Judge John Beger said he will set a trial date Aug. 20 in the criminal case against Sigman and Tomaszewski. He also ruled there will be no more delays.
Following an indictment by a grand jury, Sigman became the first Texas County officeholder in 45 years to be charged with a crime when he and Tomaszewski were arrested while on duty inside the Texas County Justice Center. A report from the Missouri State Highway Patrol said Sigman allowed a woman who he hired and engaged in a romantic relationship – Tomaszewski – to impersonate an officer on multiple occasions, threaten bodily harm to others and physically abuse inmates
While Tomaszewski carried out the wrongdoings in the report, authorities said Sigman was present for the incidents and allowed them. They both were charged with similar crimes: 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. Sigman was charged again in October on a felony forgery charge. Tomaszewski was charged with two counts of forgery in December.
Sigman, 49, was transported to the Greene County Jail in Springfield. Tomaszewski, 39, was taken to the Shannon County Jail. Both were held on $500,00 bond.
Texas County Coroner Marie Lasater assumed duties the following morning as acting sheriff. A week later, the commission named former detective Rowdy Douglas the interim sheriff of the county. He served in that capacity until November, when Scott Lindsey won a special election to officially replace Sigman.
As the Texas County Sheriff’s Department moved forward, including the return of many of the more than 50 employees who left in Sigman’s final 12 months before his arrest, the case against its former sheriff unfolded slowly.
Defense attorney Jason Coatney took the first big swing on Aug. 10 when he filed an 11-page motion alleging police conduct by members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol while conducting the execution of a May 29 search warrant at the Texas County Justice Center. Coatney said investigators and a nurse engaged in criminal conduct by removing a folder documenting injuries to a former inmate who had been assaulted in the jail. Coatney released a series of video clips from inside the facility to the media.
One day earlier, Coatney sought the dismissal of four counts against Sigman, saying he wasn’t present on June 30, 2017, when crimes related to those charges allegedly occurred. Coatney said Sigman was attending a funeral and was not the commanding officer that day for the department.
Coatney has filed multiple motions for dismissal of charges. Along with police misconduct are prosecutor misconduct, posse comitatus – a sheriff’s right to mobilize citizens for assistance – and a state statute that he said extends protections to peace officers while using force.
During an Aug. 14 court appearance, special prosecutor Don Trotter sought to silence Coatney. He said he hadn’t made any statements to the public and wanted Coatney to do the same. “You defend the case in the courtroom, not the public,” Trotter told the judge.
Beger said he was concerned about facts from the case becoming public. He raised the online security level to 3, which closes information on Casenet, a database that includes information about the state’s judicial system and court cases. The move was later reversed.
Along with Coatney’s filings for dismissal, two seemingly important pieces of evidence have delayed the case.
The first was the access of the records of AW, the former inmate whose folder was missing from the jail. Authorities allege that the 19-year-old who was described as having “the mental capacity of a 9-year-old” was struck in the face in February 2018 by Tomaszewski’s elbows while he was unconscious and unable to resist. The inmate had been rendered unconscious, the patrol said possibly inadvertently, by a choke hold while resisting officers. Coatney said AW’s records were critical to prove he had a violent history. He also said he wanted to research why the Houston Police Department, which had arrested AW, hadn’t notified Sigman or his department that AW was a juvenile in the eyes of the state. Coatney was granted access to the medical records in late October.
The second was the release of a server that housed video recordings at the sheriff’s department. The server was removed by Sigman, Coatney said, as an act of transparency to protect his department as allegations arose. Coatney said Sigman gave the hard drive to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, which later transferred it to the Missouri Crime Information Center in Springfield. Trotter said he hoped to find video evidence related to missing paperwork from the department. Beger granted the request.
Two federal lawsuits by former inmates allege miserable treatment in the Texas County Jail during Sigman’s tenure.
In a July 2018 lawsuit, Harry A. Scheina III alleged he failed to receive proper medical care for a jaw injury during his incarceration and filed suit Sigman, Tomaszewski and Texas County government. On May 28, Beth Phillips, chief judge of U.S. District Court in Springfield, dismissed the monetary claim against Sigman. She ruled that Scheina can seek monetary damages from the county because it is “the real party in interest,” and not Sigman.
Attorneys for Scheina asked for a default judgment because the county’s counsel didn’t respond timely, as directed. An attorney for the county responded the firm changed software and the new system didn’t issue a reminder. The judge is considering the issue. On June 26, the county turned over more than 4,000 pages of documents to Scheina’s attorneys.
In late December, a second lawsuit seeking $2.5 million dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled. James E. Denny, of Licking, alleged the Texas County Sheriff’s Department created a miserable environment during his incarceration. Denny, who was representing himself, failed to have litigation paperwork in order, as requested. He was seeking $500,000 from Sigman.
LATEST IN THE PROCESS
In a March court appearance, Coatney told Beger the Midwest Crime Information Center in Springfield retrieved video footage from the server. Because of the development, Coatney filed a motion to delay the quo warranto trial set for April 3-4 in Phelps County to oust Sigman. It was granted.
In May, Coatney gave notice to the court to take a taped deposition of the then county commissioners, a former sheriff’s department deputy and a private investigator hired by the county’s insurance carrier. At that time, Beger said Aug. 20 would be the setting of a trial date, and there would be no more continuances.
Both Sigman and Tomaszewski remain free on bond.