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Gregg County Jail inmate death lawsuit goes to court as mediation fails

By Glenn Evans
Oct. 13, 2012 at 10 p.m.

A federal lawsuit arising from the death of a Gregg County Jail inmate is set for trial after mediation efforts ordered by the court failed to resolve the case brought by her family.

Amy Lynn Cowling was 33 when she died in jail custody Dec. 29, 2010.

Her mother, Vicki Bankhead, and two other family members say the county is responsible for Cowling's death because of a jail policy to withhold prescribed medicines and limit those that can be prescribed by the county's health authority.

Cowling family attorney Jimmy Negem said Friday that discussions among the parties and mediator Bert Pluymen had not worked out.

"And we are completing the depositions in the case," Negem added. "I took (Sheriff) Maxey Cerliano's deposition (Thursday). And we're going to complete discovery and go to trial in the case."

The trial is set Jan. 7 in Judge Rodney Gilstrap's Marshall courtroom for the U.S. Eastern District of Texas.

The civil lawsuit against Gregg County was filed in June 2011. It contends the county is responsible for Cowling's death, which the family says was the result of lethal seizures she suffered after jail personnel refused to administer prescription methadone when she was jailed Dec. 24, 2010, until her death four days later.

Cowling's family is seeking unspecified monetary damages citing mental anguish, loss of companionship and other damages.

The county has denied the allegations and contends the family is not due any damages, saying its jail policies are in line with state and federal standards.

In addition to Cerliano, sworn depositions were taken this past week from Dr. James Hollerman, described in federal filings as one of Cowling's "treating physicians."

Cowling, of Gilmer, had been arrested Christmas Eve 2010 on two traffic violations, plus misdemeanor theft warrants from Henderson and Smith counties.

She was pronounced dead at 12:48 a.m. Dec. 29 at Good Shepherd Medical Center, where she was taken after being found unresponsive in her cell. She was removed from the cell after hours of seizures and vomiting.

Previous reports indicate Cowling was denied methadone, a medication she was prescribed under addiction treatment at the East Texas Methadone Clinic.

Attorney Robert Davis, who represents Cerliano through the county's insurance policy, previously said Cowling also had prescriptions for Seroquel and Xanax, which respectively treat symptoms for schizophrenia and anxiety.

None of the three narcotics Cowling's family said she needed were on the county's list of drugs approved to be dispensed in the jail.

Davis and former mediator Pluymen did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.



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