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Gregg County Jail Faces Day in Court

Sep 30th, 2012 | Category: Gregg County, Lead Article

by MAC OVERTON, September 16, 2012,  Gilmer Mirror

A wrongful-death lawsuit against the Gregg County Jail is set to go to trial in January, said Jarom Tefteller, attorney for a family suing in the death of a woman on or about Dec. 29, 2010.

Amy Lynn Cowling, 33, of Gilmer had been pulled over for speeding, and a DPS computer check showed she had outstanding warrants for traffic violations.

Amy Lynn Cowling of Gilmer died while in jail custody, and her family claims the death is related to her not being given prescribed medications which the 33-year-old needed to live. The medications were in her purse in the jail property room at the time of her death, the suit alleges.

The suit was filed by her mother, Vicki Bankhead, as representative of Ms. Cowling’s estate, and Dustan Bean, “next friend” and biological father of the deceased woman’s three minor children.

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and actual damages, as well as attorney’s fees.

The Cowling case has drawn widespread attention from those claiming local jails in Texas have major health-care problems.

The case was highlighted in the Feb. 12, 2011 Texas state edition of The New York Times, in which Vicki Grissom of the Texas Tribune in Austin reported on the Cowling arrest, incarceration, and subsequent death.

The lawsuit was filed by Jarom Tefteller of Gilmer, representing Ms. Bankhead; and Jimmy Negem and Joe Worthington of the Tyler law firm of Negen & Worthington, representing Bean.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, states that prior to her arrest and death in the Gregg County Jail, Ms. Cowling “had become addicted to certain ‘painkiller’ medication (sic) as a consequence of past injuries.”

The suit stated that she had become dependent on the painkillers, and that she had been in a methadone treatment program “for the purpose of getting off and staying off painkillers, controlling her addiction, and become a more productive citizen and person.”

The suit stated she remained in the program and was treated with methadone daily until her incarceration in the Gregg County Jail.

The lawsuit said she was dependant on methadone and the other prescribed painkillers , “without which she would suffer from severe, painful and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.”

However, the medications she was on were not on the jail’s approved medicine list, and she was given substitute medications.

“Despite Amy’s repeated requests and the repeated requests of many others, she was denied her medications in the jail,” the suit alleges.

It also alleges that when she began showing possible signs of withdrawal, including seizures and seizure-like activity, she was still denied access to her medicines.

Published reports have said that other some other jails in East Texas allow inmates access to the drugs Ms. Cowling was denied.

The suit alleges that the “precipitous withdrawal” of methadone and her other prescription medicines sent Ms. Cowling into worsening symptoms of withdrawal, including but not limited to, visual and auditory hallucinations, seizures, and seizure-like activity and other symptoms,” and the suit goes on to describe the “continuous, uncontrollable” withdrawal symptoms.

The suits that Gregg County Jail and Sheriff’s Office officials dismissed “her pleas for mercy and help.”

After she was found dead in her cell late at about 12:22 a.m. on Dec. 29, jail personnel called Longview EMS, and she was taken to Good Shepherd Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

The state Commission on Jail Standards had ruled weeks before Ms. Cowling’s death that the Gregg County Jail was in compliance with state jail standards.

The lists of approved and banned drugs were developed by Dr. Lewis A. Browne, Gregg County health administrator and jail doctor since 1992. Some of the drugs on the prohibited list were banned because inmates traded them for illicit favors, the NYT article said.

An internal investigation by Sheriff Maxey Cerliano found resulted in firings and criminal charges against two jailers accused of falsifying records on the night Ms. Cowling died, and the firings of three more.

Another jailer resigned. Cerliano said some of the firings were not related to the death, but to other information that emerged during his investigation.

Read more: The Gilmer Mirror – Lawsuit over jail death set for trial


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