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Final ruling in inmate's death reportedly delayed by her attorney

By Robyn Claridy rclaridy@news-journal.com
Jan. 11, 2011 at 7 p.m.

More than two weeks has passed since the death of a Gregg County Jail inmate sparked an internal investigation that put the jail in non-compliance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Gregg County officials said Tuesday the majority of the investigation is complete, but they can't close the books on the investigation until an official cause of death is ruled on 33-year-old Amy Lynn Cowling.

That final ruling is being held up by the victim's attorney.

Attorney Robert Davis, who represents Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano, said the doctor who is performing Cowling's autopsy requested that Jarom Tefteller, the attorney representing Cowling's family, provide past medical records before her autopsy could be complete.

"These documents were requested from Tefteller more than a week ago, and investigators said they had yet to receive Cowling's medical history or HIPAA form, which releases her medical documents to the Texas Rangers," Davis said.

Tefteller said he would have to go through legal departments and possibly a court hearing before the documents could be released to him.

Cowling, of Gilmer, died Dec. 28. She was found unresponsive in a Gregg County Jail separation cell. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at Good Shepherd Medical Center, where she was taken after jail staff could not revive her.

Immediately after the death, the investigation focused on circumstances leading to Cowling's death after she had been placed in a separation cell, medicated and put on a regular watch schedule by jailers who were to check on her every 15 to 30 minutes.

Apparent violations of that watch order led to the firing of five employees and one resignation.

One of the fired jailers was charged with tampering with a government document for allegedly falsifying a jail observation log.

Although the investigation started because of the death of Cowling, officials said a broader investigation was in order.

Brian West, a former jailer was fired and later charged with allegedly falsifying a jail observation log in connection with a November offense.

The jail was also found in non compliance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards because of falsified jail logs, a finding that required some inmates to be transferred to jail cells in Upshur County.

"I hope we are done with all the personnel changes, and at this point the issues appear to be isolated and not widespread," Cerliano said Tuesday. "There were policy violations and two criminal violations. We will continue to work and train employees according to policy and procedure and jail guidelines."

Cerliano said jail officials are hoping to have the jail back in compliance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards before the end of the month.

"We are talking to the jail commission daily, so as soon as we can be back in compliance we will be," he said.

Before the jail can be found in compliance again, an inspector from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards will have to do a reinspection the jail, Cerliano said.

He said the final autopsy report had no baring on when the jail commission inspector could do a reevaluation.



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