A southern Missouri county is trying to pick up the pieces after the indictment of a sheriff and a subordinate with whom he allegedly had a romantic relationship, leading to the exodus of dozens of sheriff’s department employees.
Former Texas County Sheriff James Sigman, 48, and Lt. Deputy Jennifer Tomaszewski, 38, were indicted July 18 on charges including assault, robbery, endangerment of a child, misuse of a weapon and harassment after complaints of shoddy police work and favoritism plagued the department and reached the county seat in Houston, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Court records obtained by the newspaper show that Sigman hired Tomaszewski as a jailer in December 2016, roughly the same time they became romantically involved. Just seven months later, Tomaszewski was promoted to jail administrator of the 72-bed facility, leading to complaints from both employees and inmates, according to the newspaper.
Luritta Baker, 57, had worked at the jail for six years before she was let go for not ensuring that an inmate took medication. But Baker suspects her loss of employment had more to do with complaining about Tomaszewski and telling the sheriff she thought he was being duped by the younger woman.
“She didn’t like me because I knew what kind of person she was, and I called her out on it,” Baker told the newspaper.
Carl Watson, the county’s sheriff prior to Sigman, said the complaints and rumors connected to the pair’s alleged relationship should’ve been addressed sooner.
“I hate to tell you what I think about it,” said Watson, 72. “What he’s done is not good for the county.”
Several employees in good standing had quit the department due to the alleged conduct and fears of reprisal for speaking up, Watson said.
One of those employees, Rowdy Douglas, quit earlier this year because of the “atmosphere,” he said.
“Everything seemed like it was running smooth,” Douglas said. “Then it was like the wheels fell off.”
Douglas is now back with the department as its interim sheriff until a special election in November, according to the newspaper.
“We’ve lost some trust with the community, I mean that’s a given,” Douglas said. “We’ll get it back. We just gotta get our stuff squared away and get back out there and put people in jail again.”
While working at the jail, Tomaszewski hit a mentally disabled inmate in the face with her elbows while he was unconscious and later told a corrections officer that she was trying to “bust his eardrums out,” court documents show. She also threatened to shoot another inmate in the head.
Investigators allege Tomaszewski also wore a deputy’s uniform while not yet a licensed police officer, helped detain suspects and played the role as “bait” during undercover stings conducted by the department. Tomaszewski also allegedly pointed a firearm at several people, including a 1-year-old child looking on at a nearby crime scene.
Complaints by jail inmates ultimately prompted a county prosecutor to ask the Missouri Highway Patrol to launch an investigation. That led to the arrest of Sigman and Tomaszewski, who was working as Sigman’s chief deputy at the time, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Sigman, whose wife has filed for divorce, moved in with Tomaszewski in Eunice sometime last year. They’re now barred from contacting each other as a condition of being released from jail last week. Sigman blasted the allegations against him as “bull—-” when reached by the newspaper.
“It’ll all come out in the end, that’s all I can tell you,” Sigman said before shutting his door.
Sigman is the first elected official to be charged with a crime in Texas County in 45 years, according to the Houston Herald.
Tomaszewski, for her part, declined comment through a friend, the Post-Dispatch reports.
Meanwhile, in rural Eunice, some residents, including Sigman’s neighbor, said they don’t expect a storybook ending for the former top lawman and Tomaszewski.
“They are human just like we are, but they are supposed to be held to a higher standard,” Danny Ross said. “It doesn’t seem to be working that way in politics and anywhere anymore.”