City man held in retired policeman’s shooting death

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 9, 2009

A person of interest during the 17 months since a retired Vicksburg “pioneer in law enforcement” was found shot to death was headed to his initial court hearing this morning to formally be charged with capital murder.

Tyler Lee Smith, 51, 3112 N. Washington St., was taken into custody Friday afternoon and accused of killing Walter Cole, who retired from the Vicksburg Police Department as an assistant chief.

Lt. Bobby Stewart said this morning the capital murder charge, which gives rise to a possible death sentence, was filed because Cole was robbed before he was killed.

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Smith was arrested at North Washington Street and Pittman Road near where Cole’s body was found in his vehicle on July 23, 2008. Smith was held during the weekend in the Issaquena County Jail and was to appear today in Warren County Court before Judge Johnny Price.

Cole, described after his death by Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace as a pioneer in law enforcement, was one of the first seven black officers hired by the department in the early 1970s. The group later dubbed themselves the “Lucky 7.”

“If it wasn’t for Cole blazing the way in the Vicksburg police administration, there wouldn’t be a (Chief) Walter Armstrong or a Jeff Scott,”  Assistant Police Chief Jeffery Scott said this morning. Armstrong, a retired Mississippi Highway Patrol Safety trooper hired as chief in July, and Scott are also black.

Cole, who was 75, was a military veteran who had retired as third-in-command of the police force in 1995. He then worked as a detention officer for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department from May 1997 until November 2005.

Cole’s car was parked at Pittman Road and Railroad Avenue, less than a mile from his home in Waltersville Estates. He had a single gunshot wound to the head. Police believe Cole had been dead about seven hours before his body was found at about 8:30 a.m.

Stewart said this morning that Smith “was a person of interest since the death” and had been questioned several times.

Some items belonging to Cole, including a .38-caliber handgun believed used in the shooting, were missing from the vehicle, Stewart said. The weapon was found in April, but police declined this morning to say where.

“We could put Mr. Smith with Mr. Cole in the early morning prior to his death,” Stewart said. He said Smith is the only suspect now, but the investigation is continuing.

Stewart said others might face charges of obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact.

“Fresh eyes combined with a different perspective helped sew the case together,” said Scott, who was hired in October from the Jackson Police Department.

“If you ever put together a puzzle, sometimes it takes the person standing on the other side of table to see where the pieces go,” Scott said.

He said the investigation showed Cole was known for lending money, giving rides and even paying utilities for people.

“He had begun to help so many people in the community, he had taken on the role of guardian angel,” said Scott. “When you begin to dig into a person’s life, you normally find something uncomfortable for the family to come to grips with. That’s not the case in Mr. Cole’s life. In fact, it’s just the exact opposite.”


Contact Tish Butts at