Self defense claimed in co-worker’s death

Published 2:46 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

In a tragic altercation that shocked family and friends, a Batesville man shot and killed his co-worker of more than 25 years last Friday on Dummy Line Rd. in west Panola County.

Sheriff Shane Phelps, one of the first to arrive on the scene, called the incident “one of the strangest things I’ve seen in my law enforcement career.”

Killed was Wallace “Peanut” Valentine, 57.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Interviewed at the scene and later at the county’s detention center was Sammy Armstead. He was released that evening with no charges filed at this time. Both were employees of Thomas Farms for nearly three decades.

The first call to authorities was made by another of the men’s co-workers who reported a motor vehicle accident on Dummy Line, the road that runs from Hwy. 6W to Crowder.

An off duty deputy was nearby and responded first, finding a much graver situation than a car accident.

Phelps and another deputy arrived shortly after to find one man with a gunshot wound and the other badly shaken. Once officers secured the scene and emergency medical personnel tended to the wounded man, investigators were able to piece together accounts from the eyewitness and others to better understand the events that led to the shooting death.

Although details are murky, it has been established that Valentine was driving a tractor on Dummy Line Rd. north towards Batesville when the tractor was wrecked into a ditch. Armstead arrived at the accident scene shortly afterwards, apparently intending to help pull the tractor from the ditch.

An argument ensued between the longtime friends and quickly escalated. What happened in the next few minutes is left for investigators to determine. Those findings will be part of a report that will likely be considered by an upcoming Grand Jury at the discretion of the District Attorney’s Office.

Reliable sources reported that investigators recovered two weapons from the scene, a scythe-like tool often called a Kaiser blade, sling blade, or Joe blade, and a rifle of unconfirmed caliber.

It is not unusual for farm employees like Armstead and the late Wallace to have those kinds of tools and long guns in their work trucks.

Because Armstead was neither charged nor detained it is reasonable to assume that investigators were told by witnesses the deceased man had threatened his co-worker, and may have attacked him physically, establishing a case for self defense.

Phelps would neither confirm nor deny any of a number of stories circulated around the county purporting to be the truth about the events.

“We are following leads and don’t have any further information that can be released at this time,” he said. Wallace’s body has been sent to Jackson for an autopsy and toxicology report from the State Medical Examiner’s office. He appeared to have been killed by a single rifle shot to the chest.

Investigator Justin Maples said the department will be actively talking to people associated with the men involved and familiar with the events of the deadly day until the matter is presented by the District Attorney’s Office to a Grand Jury.

“Charges are pending until the conclusion of the investigation,” Maples said.