WAYNESVILLE, Mo.— Former Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and his former jail administrator, Jennifer Tomaszweski, both chose to be tried by Circuit Judge John Beger rather than a jury when their trial began Monday morning on a change-of-venue to the Pulaski County Courthouse in Waynesville.
Sigman, 51, and Tomaszewski, 41, each face eight felony charges and two misdemeanors accusing them of numerous offenses during their time working in Texas County law enforcement. In the first case in 45 years of a Texas County official being charged with crimes, Sigman was removed from being in the office in 2018 after being charged with crimes, the most serious being two Class A felonies of first degree assault accusing him of aiding or encouraging another person, Tomaszewski, in attempting to cause serious physical injury to a jail inmate described in court documents as being a “vulnerable person,” and first-degree robbery by aiding or encouraging Tomaszewski “to forcibly steal a cell phone” owned by another person while being “armed with a deadly weapon.”
The two class A felonies carry a maximum penalty of 10 to 30 years in state prison; according to court documents, the inmate was a 19-year-old with the mental capacity of a 9-year-old child, and the cell phone robbery involved Tomaszewski, who was accompanying Sigman and other law enforcement officers on a drug raid, “pointing her firearm at these individuals” across the street from a drug raid “because she thought they were video recording the officers and taking pictures, which she mistakenly thought they were not allowed to do.”
Other charges include a Class E felony accusing Tomaszewski of bringing her daughter into the jail after school when she knew dangerous inmates, including sex offenders, were present in an area where those inmates were not restrained, a Class D felony accusing Tomaszewski of pointing a gun at a juvenile under 17, a Class B misdemeanor of impersonating an officer by wearing a uniform that appeared to be a deputy’s uniform before she had received a deputy’s commission, and a Class A misdemeanor accusing her of misusing the MULES system to obtain license plate information by using Sigman’s identification numbers.
Sigman’s involvement is typically described in court documents as having “aided or encouraged” Tomaszewski’s actions, and according to a Missouri State Highway Patrol report, “she has also been involved in a romantic relationship with Sigman since very near the time she was initially hired at the sheriff’s office.”
Both Sigman and Tomaszewski are being tried together; both sit next to each other at the defendant’s table in the Pulaski County courtroom and the same attorney is arguing on their behalf in court.
Witnesses called to testify Monday who formerly worked in the Texas County Jail or as deputies painted a picture of a dysfunctional sheriff’s department in their county in which Tomaszewski yelled at inmates and neither she nor the sheriff could be approached by deputies and jail employees with concerns.
Kenneth Reynolds, a deputy at the time, said he observed Tomaszewski partially dressed in a part of the jail where she could be seen.
“There was a time she was coming out of the jail administrator’s office putting her shirt on… she had her sports bra on,” Reynolds said.
“Did you see her naked?” asked defense attorney Jason Coatney.
“No, I didn’t,” Reynolds replied. “She was buttoning up her shirt … that wasn’t the place to do it.”
While Tomaszewski wasn’t wearing all of her uniform that day in the jail, Reynolds said she was wearing a full uniform and carrying a Glock handgun while accompanying other officers on a drug raid even though she wasn’t a commissioned deputy at the time. Other testimony on Monday said the jailer uniforms changed over time in Texas County from a uniform that was clearly different from the commissioned deputies to a uniform that was very close to that worn by the deputies with patches and the words “Texas County Sheriff’s Department.” The main difference, according to former jail transport officer Mark Etchason, was that deputies wore a gun and a badge, but Etchason said after a jail escape incident in Texas County, the jail transport officers began to carry a gun.
Mark Etchason and his wife, Wanda Etchason, who was a nurse working at the jail, both said they saw Tomaszewski’s daughter in the jail after school hours and both said they couldn’t raise their concerns to either Tomaszewski or Sigman.
“They were not approachable; at that point in time, they had an attitude toward everybody,” Wanda Etchason said.
Coatney challenged both of the Etchasons on whether Mark Etchason had wanted to become the jail administrator rather than Tomaszewski. Mark Etchason said he hadn’t sought out the position but didn’t believe Tomaszewski should have been promoted to jail administrator after less than a year working as a jailer.
“Everyone was upset. She hadn’t been there long enough,” he said. “She was very aggressive toward the inmates, she didn’t know how to treat them with respect… with her around, problems would start.”
Under questioning by special prosecutor Roscoe Miller, Wanda Etchason said the mentally deficient inmate didn’t belong in the jail at all and he “had problems with understanding and impulse control.”
“He’d get angry about something and throw a tantrum and would need to be controlled,” she said.
In her capacity as a jail nurse, she observed the inmate’s injuries and saw bruises on his face.
“I asked him what happened, and he said, ‘Jennifer hit me,’ ” she said.
“I asked him what happened, and he said, ‘Jennifer hit me,’ ” she said.FORMER NURSE WANDA ETCHASON
The trial resumes Tuesday morning in the Pulaski County Courthouse, where prosecutors and defense attorneys say the next witness is expected to have an hour of testimony on conditions in the Texas County Sheriff’s Department in 2017 and 2018.
Maurina is covering the trial for the Houston Herald.