Jailer charged in inmate’s death; four others fired as investigation continues

A Gregg County jailer was arrested, four others were fired and one resigned in connection with the death of a Gilmer woman who died last week while in jail custody.

Tomeka Cross, 34, was charged with tampering with a government document for allegedly falsifying a jail observation log. According to a Gregg County statement, she was fired at 11 a.m. Friday and booked into jail at 11:05 a.m. She had been a jail employee since August.

Also fired were Cpl. Kashena Davis, jailers Jacqueline Smiddy, Gary Lewis and Brian West. Jailer Darrell McClenton resigned.

More firings could be in the offing, Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said.

“Know that the investigation is not complete,” he said in an interview Monday night. “It’s ongoing. I’m not telling you that we’re done yet.”

The arrest and firings stem from the death of Amy Lynn Cowling, 33. She died early Wednesday at Good Shepherd Medical Center after jail personnel found her unresponsive in her cell just before midnight Tuesday.

The alleged falsification of the observation log is related to the fact jailers were to be regularly checking in on Cowling, who had a history of drug abuse and mental problems.

Last week, Robert Davis, an attorney representing Cerliano, said Cowling was put in a so-called separation cell, medicated and “put on watch every 15 to 30 minutes.” Determining whether the watch order was carried out was among the goals of an investigation by the Texas Rangers and Gregg County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

Monday night, Cerliano declined to speculate about whether Cowling, a single mother of three children, would still be alive if the order were followed.

“What we know is that the log that was put into place was falsified,” he said. “There’s policy and procedure in place, general orders, code of conduct, general operation guidelines. These employees receive training before they’re put out on the floor, so there’s no excuse for this.”

Because of the findings of the investigation, Cerliano said, the jail was found to be in non-compliance by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Because of that finding, 21 Smith County inmates being held in Gregg County on a contract basis were transferred Thursday to the Upshur County Jail.

Though the Gregg County Jail holds inmates for other counties and the U.S. Marshals Service, only the Smith County inmates had to be moved. That’s because the Smith County Jail is under a remedial order for overcrowding, so cannot contract inmates to a jail that is in non compliance.

On Monday, Cerliano said, the Gregg County Jail held 709 inmates. Of those, 85 were on contract from Cass and Harrison counties. Another 115 were being housed for the Marshals Service.

Cowling was arrested Dec. 24 on Interstate 20 near Texas 135. During a traffic stop, troopers discovered she had outstanding warrants dating to 2007 from Henderson and Smith counties. She was being held in North Jail on bonds totaling $27,500.

After she died, Cowling’s family raised questions about why the jail denied Cowling her prescribed medications for mental illness while she was in custody.

“We feel that she was given a life sentence over a speeding ticket,” her mother, Vicki Bankhead, said Sunday.

Davis has said Cowling was denied the medication because it was on the jail’s non-approved drug list, but that she was prescribed substitute medications after a county medical assessment.

Cowling had been on medications for more than 10 years, including methadone, a synthetic opiate; Seroquel, used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia; and Xanax, used to treat anxiety disorders panic attacks. They were not on the jail’s approved list.

Cowling’s body was sent to Southeast Texas Forensic Center in Tyler for an autopsy ordered by Justice of the Peace B.H. Jameson. Davis said Monday he expected autopsy results by Wednesday.

Cerliano said results of the the autopsy and continuing investigation by Texas Rangers, sheriff’s investigators and the Gregg County District Attorney’s Office would dictate his next moves.

“If anyone has done anything improper regarding the incarceration of Cowling or has failed to follow medical standards established to safeguard the health of all inmates, that employee will be dealt with quickly and severely,” he said.



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