Custody death prompts questions

August 13, 2013 • Local News

Jessica Palmer
Record Staff Writer

Sherrie Towler, mother of Cody Towler, is haunted by her experiences with the police following her son’s in-custody death.
“In my mind, I see him every day lying there in the alley. Every day. I cannot get that image out of my mind.”
Sherrie has her suspicions about the investigation. The night Cody died, she went out searching for her son because he was late coming home.
“My mom called me and I went to the scene. I had a gut instinct when I saw a collection of cop cars. I had called him several times and never got an answer. … When I went to the police station, they told us there had been a homicide and began asking me if Cody had any known enemies.”
Sherrie wasn’t allowed to leave the RPD until 7 a.m. “The police were not releasing any information. I was not allowed to see my son, supposedly, because he was sent to OMI, but his body never got to OMI until nightfall. At 8 a.m. (five hours after his death) a neighbor went to take out her garbage and his body was still there in the alley,” she said.
Sherrie’s brother, Cory Fowler, believes that the family homes were subjected to an illegal [auth] search. He said at the time no one had been informed that Cody’s death occurred in police custody.
Likewise, his girlfriend and his grandmother were picked up at 6 a.m. and interrogated; their homes were also searched. Sherrie admitted that she gave permission for the search. “They got permission under false pretenses. What are you going to do? Your son is deceased, and I’m thinking my son was murdered,” she said.
“They are telling so many lies,” said Sherrie. She was told that Chaves County Sheriff’s Office was the lead investigating agency. When she contacted the SO, she was referred to the State Police. When she called the NMSP, she was referred back to the RPD.
Initially, the police said that Cody’s personal items went to OMI. She contacted the investigator at OMI who said that they had received no such possessions. When the family went to the police station to collect a gold chain and a cross that belonged to Cody, their request was denied because the items were evidence in an investigation. A month later, Sherrie went to get a list of those items Cody had with him when he died, again her request was denied.
When Sherrie went to the fire department to obtain a copy of his final medical record, she was told that the records could not be released because of HIPAA regulations. Sherrie, a nurse with 20 years of experience, is familiar with HIPAA and knows the next of kin has the right not only to request, but the right to receive the medical records.
In August, Sherrie called OMI to find out what was causing the delay, she was told that they were waiting on the toxicology test results. However, the final toxicology report contained within the autopsy is dated Feb. 17, 2013.
The family has retained two attorneys, Kenneth Egan and Joel Newton of Las Cruces. Newton questions why the police report, which is a matter of public record, was released to OMI and not to any member of the public.
Fowler reported that Cody’s face had been so badly damaged with numerous cuts and bruises that they could not hold open casket services. A fact confirmed by OMI. (See related story.)
Sherrie said, “He had multiple bruises, one of which was shaped like a footprint.”
After reading the autopsy, Egan said he had his doubts about any alleged attack by Cody. “I’m no expert, but there was nothing to indicate that he was fighting back, rather he appeared to be walking, not running, away from officers when he was tased multiple times.”
Egan said it was the inconsistencies between the report given by the police and OMI results that bothered him.
“The report of officers said they tased him three times while the autopsy found four or five taser probes. The way the report reads they had him shackled and the beating occurred after he was in shackles when he was of no danger to anybody.”
Sherrie said her son had a history of seizures and had been diagnosed with both depression and PTSD after a series of deaths in the family. She also said he suffered from chronic pain as a result of workplace injuries. The toxicology report reflects this medical history. Drugs included in the toxicology report were analgesics (opioids); anticholinergic agents, used as an antispasmotic; anticonvulsant agents; antidepressants, cardiovascular agents; barbituates often used for the treatment of seizures, muscle relaxants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (including aspirin).
Sherrie admits that the toxicology report shows methamphetamine use. “He was going through a bad period in his life. He had just broken up with his girlfriend and had been denied contact with their four children,” she said.
Her primary goal, though, is to let people know that her son was a good man, a father to four boys, the youngest born August 2012, only five months before his father died.
“The police have an attitude. You can only imagine what is going on. … if they were just honest with the citizens.”
With the release of the autopsy, the family is finally able to tell his children what happened to their father. “We don’t know what to tell his children. All they know is that they haven’t seen their daddy. Now I have to find a way to tell them that their father was killed by the police.”
The children’s uncle, Cory, spoke with the children. Sherrie said they were quiet when they learned what happened. “He (the uncle) told them that there are good people and bad people, just like there are good police and bad police.
Sherrie said in conclusion, “They (the officers) were supposedly put on paid leave, for what, two days? My son is dead and they are back on the job? I want Roswell to be a safe town, and I want the police to be held accountable for what they do.”

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