St. Pete Police Chief killed 111 years ago honored with headstone

James Mitchell was killed back in 1905

St. Petersburg, FL -- This week, as part of police appreciation week, law enforcement agencies around the country and the Bay Area are holding memorial services to honor fallen heroes - officers who've made the ultimate sacrifice - killed in the line of duty.  

None of those ceremonies have been as poignant, and perhaps overdue, as the one Friday in St. Petersburg.

In 1903, the St. Petersburg Police department named its first chief, James Mitchell.

It was so long ago, that the department doesn't even have a picture of him. 

But just two years later, Christmas Day 1905, Chief Mitchell was killed in the line of duty. 

On that on that night, Chief Mitchell was behind a saloon on Central Avenue, between Second and Third Streets. He was arresting a man for disorderly conduct, when a second man by the name of John Thomas came up behind Mitchell with a butcher knife, and stabbed the chief in the back, piercing is heart. 

Thomas was brought to a holding cell at the police department where he died.

Some say Chief Mitchell was able to fire off a shot before collapsing. Others say an angry mob stormed past guards and killed Thomas themselves.

“The chief was an active chief. He was working on Christmas, responding to what appeared to be a routine call of disorderly conduct,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “His stabbing, and subsequent death, was the very first time this Department learned that there is no such thing as a routine call.”

When it was all over, Chief Mitchell was buried at St. Petersburg's Greenwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Eventually his wife and son - buried here as well.

For more than a century, you would never have known the final resting place of the St. Pete Police Department's first fallen hero.

But on Friday, all of that changed as a headstone reading “Mitchell” was unveiled.

Over the last year, a group called the Heroes of the Saint Pete Police has been raising money for the headstone. A proper marker for Chief Mitchell and his family.

The idea actually started with a Facebook comment posted by a man named John Thompson, who challenged the city or someone else, to do something more to honor Chief Miller. 

The Heroes of the Saint Pete Police Foundation took up the challenge.

“We thought, Oh my Gosh, you are absolutely right, how has something not been done? We have to rectify this as soon as we can,” said the foundation’s Dawn Peters.

And so, while he has always been part of the department's history and memory, the headstone now brings what some see as long overdue honor and dignity to Chief Mitchell and his family. 

“He was our first Hero at the St. Petersburg police department,” said current Chief Anthony Holloway, “And today we give him the honor that is due to him.”

Officials say Chief Mitchell's last surviving family member died in the late 1980s.

But the department still wanted to show how sacrifices on the job, especially the ultimate sacrifice, are never forgotten.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment