Former McComb Police Chief Damian Gatlin will join the District Attorney’s office in Magnolia as investigator Truett Simmons retires on Tuesday, said District Attorney Dee Bates.
At the same time, Brookhaven city prosecutor Cheli Durr will take over as interim DA investigator in the Brookhaven office with the retirement of John Whitaker.
“Obviously the office is going to miss both of them — a lot of years experience and, to be honest with you, a lot of knowledge,” Bates said Friday.
Bates said DA investigators serve as a liaison between law enforcement agencies and the DA’s office, which prosecutes cases.
Simmons, 68, of Tylertown has been with the DA’s office since 2008. Before that he was a deputy and investigator for the Walthall County Sheriff’s Department.
He said he may do some law enforcement or bailiff work in his retirement, as well as pursue his hobbies of hunting, fishing and cooking.
“I really liked working there. I liked the people,” Simmons said of the DA’s office.
As investigator he worked with law enforcement agencies and helped prepare files for the grand jury. He also located and interviewed witnesses for cases.
Lately Simmons has been involved in the search for the remains of Donald Lee Izzett, believed to have been murdered and his body burned at Fernwood in 1995 at the age of 19.
That’s just one of countless cases Simmons has worked involving violent crimes. The toughest are those with children as victims, he said.
“Those can be devastating,” Simmons said.
“It boils down to the difference between right and wrong. You know what right is and you know what wrong is. When people do things that are criminally wrong, they need to pay the consequences for that.”
On the other hand, “there’s always something new. Every case that I’ve ever worked on, I’ve learned something from it,” he said.
Whitaker, 50, of Lincoln County, has worked for the DA’s office for five years. Before that he was chief investigator for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and special agent for the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
Like Simmons, Whitaker has worked some tough cases — perhaps none more so than the Willie Cory Godbolt mass murder case in Bogue Chitto.
“I’m not going to say you’re going to get numb to it. You’re always going to have a human side to it. I guess there’s a point when it’s time to do something else,” Whitaker said.
His plans for retirement are pretty simple.
“I’m going to work my bee business — I’ve got honeybees. I’m going to build furniture,” he said, noting he specializes in cedar cabinets and hope chests.
Incoming investigator Gatlin served as McComb police chief from August 2018 until this past April, when he was terminated in a divided vote by the city board. City officials said only that they “wanted to move in a different direction.”
Before that, Gatlin was a Lincoln County sheriff’s investigator.
“I had the privilege to work with Damian through the years at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department,” Bates said. “I feel like he would be a good choice for the district. He does have relationships that he has formed in Pike and Lincoln County.”
In Brookhaven, the plan is for Durr, an attorney, to fill in as investigator for a year, then become assistant district attorney when Diane Jones retires.
“The office is excited to have her join our team and we believe she will be an asset to our district,” Bates said.