Tuesday morning’s session of the bench trial for former Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and his former jail administrator, Jennifer Tomaszewski, centered on the testimony of former jailer Lucas Cooperman who recounted an incident in which he and Tomaszewski restrained an inmate they believed to be dangerous.
The case is being tried in the Pulaski County Courthouse before Circuit Judge John Beger on a change-of-venue from Texas County, with special prosecutors appointed from outside the area.
The inmate, described in court records as a “vulnerable person” with the mental capacity of a 9-year-old despite being 19 at the time of the incident that led to the criminal charges against Sigman and Tomaszewski, was injured during a Feb. 14, 2018, altercation in the jail’s “rubber room,” used to house at-risk inmates. Both defendants face Class A felony charges, with Tomaszewski accused of “striking (the inmate) in the face and the head in an attempt to bust his eardrum out” and the former sheriff accused of “aiding or encouraging another to attempt to cause physical injury” to the inmate.
Cooperman told the court that he believes his actions, as he remembered them, were justified, and said he didn’t know anyone believed anything was wrong with his actions until he was contacted by an investigator and then by the FBI.
Cooperman said there was a general understanding among the Texas County jailers that the inmate was operating on the level of an 8- or 9-year-old, and he had previously done dangerous things such as retaining a plastic spoon that he had fashioned into a weapon.
During the 2018 altercation, the inmate “balled his hand up and went to swing” at Tomaszewski, Cooperman said. “I reacted, jumped on his back, and took him to the ground.”
“Would you take it that he was a dangerous inmate?” asked defense attorney Jason Coatney.
“Yes, he could be,” Cooperman said.
The defense attorney asked Cooperman whether a female deputy other than Tomaszewski with whom Cooperman said he was “very close” but not dating had brought her children into the jail; Cooperman said yes. One of the other charges against Tomaszewski is child welfare endangerment accusing her of endangering her daughter by bringing her into the jail when unrestrained inmates were present.
Special prosecutor Roscoe Miller asked Cooperman what he knew about the relationship between the sheriff and the jail administrator, who were described in court documents as having “been in a romantic relationship… since very near the time she was initially hired at the sheriff’s office.”
“Do you know, at one point, did he ever reside at Ms. Tomaszewski’s home?” Miller asked. “Not 100 percent I don’t know, but he was staying in an RV at her property,” Cooperman said, adding that he knew that because he and a friend would go over to Tomaszewski’s home to help her with her animals and saw the sheriff there.
The defense attorney focused on Cooperman’s view of Tomaszewski’s action.
“Did you ever see Jennifer Tomaszewski abuse an inmate?” Coatney asked. “Did you ever see Jennifer Tomaszewski mistreat an inmate? … Did you ever see her do anything with the intent to hurt and eardrum?”
Cooperman answered “no” to all those questions.
“Did you see Jennifer Tomaszewski do anything that was inconsistent with trying to get control of an out-of-control inmate?” Coatney asked.
Cooperman said no, and said Tomaszewski’s directions to him during the jail altercation to “not let go of the inmate were reasonable under the circumstances, even though it resulted in Cooperman choking the inmate by holding his neck from behind.