By Holbrook Mohr and Jeff Amy/The Associated Press
JACKSON — The police detective killed while interrogating a murder suspect at department headquarters in Mississippi’s capital city was shot four times before the suspect shot himself in the head, authorities said Friday
Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart told The Associated Press that Jackson Police Detective Eric Smith was shot twice in the chest and twice in the arm with a 9 mm pistol.
Jeremy Powell, 23, wrested Smith’s gun away while he was being questioned, shot the detective, then himself, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said Friday.
Jackson authorities said the shooting happened in a third-floor interrogation room while Smith was seeking information on a stabbing death earlier this week.
Powell had one gunshot to the head, the coroner said.
Smith, 40, had been with the police department nearly 20 years and was assigned to the Robbery-Homicide Division. The physically fit Smith was praised for his work leading numerous high-profile murder investigations, officials said.
Ken Winter, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, said it’s not unusual for an officer to be armed during an interview unless it’s being conducted in a secure area, like a jail. Jails typically require all visitors to check their weapons, including law enforcement officers.
Winter spent 36 years in law enforcement as a police chief, a detective and as director of the state crime lab.
“For him to be armed, I’d expect that,” Winter said. “I don’t think I did an interview when I wasn’t armed, unless I was doing it in the jail.”
But it is rare for an officer to be killed inside a police department, Winter said. He said he couldn’t recall such an instance in recent years in Mississippi.
Autopsies were being performed Friday at the state crime laboratory, but Strain said it could be several days before the findings are released. Some tests could take a few days, he said.
Jackson city spokesman Chris Mims said officials knew of no funeral arrangements as of Friday afternoon.
Smith is survived by his wife, Eneke, a sergeant with the Jackson Police Department, and two sons, Eric Smith Jr. and Quentin Smith. The family lives in a one-story red-brick home in a recently built subdivision in Clinton, a western suburb of Jackson.
A Jackson officer was posted in a police car Friday at the curb outside the house, where family members declined to speak to reporters.
Meanwhile, officials and friends remembered Smith as a talented officer.
Hinds County Supervisor Robert Graham, a former Jackson police officer who instructed Smith in a training class at the city’s police academy, remembers Smith for his “analytical intelligence.”
“He could develop his own leads and his own information. No one had to tell him what to do,” he said.
Captain Joseph Daughtry of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office described Smith not only as an excellent detective but a close friend. They worked together for the city department for 11 years.
“He loved his kids, he loved his twin (brother) and he loved his job and he loved the Saints,” he said.
Daughtry, a New Orleans native, said he and Smith bonded over their mutual love of New Orleans’ pro football team. He said Smith had a room he called his “sanctuary” that’s stocked with Saints memorabilia.
Clay Norton, the athletic director and head basketball coach at Clinton High School, said Eric Smith Jr. played on the basketball team before graduating in 2012. The younger Smith now attends Copiah-Lincoln Community College, where he was a forward on the school’s basketball team. Quentin Smith is a high school senior this year participating in football, track and powerlifting, Norton said.
He said Smith was involved in his children’s lives and often pitched in to help, whether working concessions or selling programs at events. Smith also was close to other children in the community, Norton said.
“Eric was real close to a lot of the kids. Their home was always open,” Norton said. “Eric and Quentin know how to act. They are always respectful and polite, and that indicates good parenting.”
Powell’s mother, LaShon Vardaman Powell, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper that her son had been in trouble with the law before, but she said he was turning his life around.
LaShon Powell said her son was good person who “would give somebody the shirt off his back” and she’s not sure what happened in the interrogation room.
“People hear things and they automatically assume he’s one type of person,” LaShon Powell said. “But he’s not.”
Speaking to reporters Friday, Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said counselors and clergy were meeting with police officers dealing with Smith’s killing. He declined to discuss the investigation or police department procedures, instead asking city residents to support police.
Said Johnson: “We have men and women out patrolling the streets of Jackson right now, fighting crime, even with this heavy burden upon them.”
Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.