Long-time New Albany Police Officer Jimmy Dean Whitten received a citation and medal of valor at the February 1 meeting of the New Albany Board of Aldermen.
The rare award was made as the result of action Whitten took the early morning of Friday, June 5, 2020. It very nearly cost him his life.
At about 3:30 a.m. that morning three men broke into a gun store on Bankhead Street in downtown New Albany. A passerby saw the crime in progress and called 911. Two New Albany Police Department (NAPD) units were nearby and arrived at the store almost immediately. Officer Whitten was patrolling in another part of the city when he heard the traffic on the radio.
Whitten made a quick decision. From 20 years of experience as a police officer, Whitten knew most such crimes in New Albany are performed by people from Memphis. His experienced intuition was that the gun store burglars were headed back to Memphis on Interstate 22. Whitten quickly entered I-22 and headed west toward Memphis. He had a description of the suspects’ motor vehicle obtained from the eyewitness.
As Whitten sped west on I-22, the Holly Springs Police Department was contacted. Whitten caught up with the fleeing thieves, but made the professional decision to wait for backup before he attempted to stop the car. However, the suspects apparently realized a police vehicle was following, so sped up.
Whitten then decided to try to try to stop the vehicle and pursued the thieves with lights and siren.
A set of the special “spike strips” law enforcement officers use to disable fleeing vehicles by puncturing tires was placed across I-22 at Holly Springs.
The burglars realized their tires had been punctured and jumped out of the vehicle, trying to escape on foot.
Whitten, who was by then close behind the suspects, saw them run from the car and stopped his NAPD cruiser. He was getting out of the car to give chase on foot when his police vehicle was struck from the rear by a car driven by a Holly Springs police officer.
The impact slammed the car into Whitten as he was getting out of his police vehicle. He was badly hurt. He received severe upper body injuries and was rushed to Baptist Hospital in Oxford. After surgical procedures and many hours of therapy, his injuries still seriously limit his movements. He is likely to face additional surgery and unlikely to ever be able to work again as a policeman.
Whitten lives every day with pain and may for the rest of his life.
However, his action resulted in recovery from the car he was pursuing of 27 guns, including AR-type guns and semi-automatic pistols, weapons that likely would have found their way to criminals who cannot legally buy firearms.
Also recovered was a safe stolen from another New Albany business before the thugs hit the gun store. The three thieves were arrested in Memphis within a few days and are now housed in the state prisons of Mississippi.
Tuesday evening Mayor Tim Kent read the citation honoring Whitten for his mature judgement and intrepid actions.
NAPD Chief of Police Chris Robertson, who wrote the recommendation that resulted in Whitten’s honors, spoke briefly and presented the Medal of Valor.
Whitten’s wife Kay pinned the Medal of Valor to his dark blue NAPD uniform.
He then spoke briefly to the few dozen people in the room.
Whitten said it had been an honor to serve the people of New Albany and told how much he had enjoyed his work.
He expressed his sadness at not being able to return to active service.
“I realized today, as I was getting dressed, that this would probably be the last time I would be able to wear this uniform,” he said.
He received a spontaneous standing ovation.
Jimmy Dean Whitten a tough, by-the-book cop, who after two decades of service and regularly dealing with people who have done their worst, is still a decent and tender-hearted human being. That in and of itself is a rare, honorable accomplishment.
The full text of Officer Whitten’s commendation is available here: City of New Albany Whitten Proclamationcrime, Jimmy Dean Whitten (NAPD), New Albany Board of Aldermen, New Albany Medal of Valor, New Albany MS, New Albany Police Department (NAPD), Northeast Mississippi news