By Adam Armour/Itawamba County Times
On Sept. 1, 1947, U.S. Marshall and Fulton resident Lee Phillips was attacked and killed while trying to apprehend a suspect accused of public drunkenness. To this day, he remains the only Itawamba County law enforcement agent killed in the line of duty.
More than six decades later, two Fulton police officers are investigating the case, so to speak, in an effort to properly honor Phillips’ sacrifice.
Capt. Brad Rogers and Sgt. David Bryson of the Fulton Police Department have been researching the story of Phillips’ death in order to create a small, public memorial in his honor. Once finished, the memorial will hang in the entrance of the police department for all to see. It will serve as a constant reminder of the dangers law enforcement officers face every day, even in a small town like Fulton.
Phillips, 60, at the time of his death, was mortally injured during a scuffle with several suspects. While trying to calm the group, he and Sheriff Newman Reese were both attacked by a suspect wielding a large piece of lumber. A blow to his head cracked Phillips’ skull. Sheriff Reese was hit with several as well, severly injuring him. Both men were rushed to the hospital for their injuries, but Phillips passed away while under medical care.
Rogers said that since Phillips was murdered walking the same streets he, Sgt. Bryson and all the other officers with the Fulton P.D. walk makes his death all the more potent.
“Even though we didn’t know Marshall Phillips personally, he is still a part of our law enforcement family,” Rogers said. “It doesn’t matter if it was 1947 or 47 B.C. for all I’m concerned; he was still an officer.
“It’s very sobering when you think about it actually happening in your city,” Rogers said. “It brings about the reality that this could happen to any one of us at any time.”
According to Rogers, Bryson approached Fulton Police Chief Reggie Johnson about creating the small memorial after seeing a rubbing of Phillips’ name Rogers had taken from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. The chief agreed that Phillips should be given a more appropriate display.
“We felt the information needed to be presented in a more professional way and displayed where the public can see it,” Rogers said.
So began the process of putting the pieces together. Because time has a tendency to fade facts into conjecture, Rogers said it was important to seek out the most accurate information. He and Bryson rifled through the pages of The Itawamba County Times and court documents. Bryson has also spoken to living relatives of Phillips and gotten statements from them.
“We’re trying to get a better picture of what happened that day,” Rogers said. “It’s been very interesting and, surprisingly, not very difficult. We were able to pull court documentation from the case through public records. His daughter was able to provide a wealth of information to us as well.”
“We haven’t yet come to a final decision about how we’re going to present this information,” Bryson said, adding that at the very least they would create a shadow box with various articles related to the case – including photos of Phillips, pictures of his name on the memorial wall and copies of the original news article that ran in The Itawamba County Times – and prominently display it at the entrance of the police station.
They are currently working with the family to acquire more personal pictures as well as a photograph of Phillips’ badge.
Because some of the families involved in the case still live in this area, Rogers said it is important to note that this research isn’t about reopening old wounds.
“We’re not trying to rehash the past or anything,” Rogers said. “We’re just trying to honor an officer who was taken in the line of duty.
“Any other place you go, there is a memorial at the police department honoring the officers who have been killed,” Rogers added. “That’s what we want to do here.”
Hopefully, the officers said, a second name will never be added.