‘He was a sheriff’s sheriff’: Ferrell’s legacy and impact remembered

Published 7:53 am Friday, April 28, 2023

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NATCHEZ — “He was the real deal.”

That’s how Jeff Britt described former longtime Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell, who died Tuesday.

Britt was one of the first members of the Natchez-Adams County Metro Narcotics Unit, formed in the late 80s by then-sheriff Ferrell and the Natchez Police Department. Britt later went on to become sheriff of Tensas Parish in the 1990s, when Ferrell was sheriff in Adams County. Britt described Ferrell as a longtime friend and a well-respected law enforcement officer.

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“He was a sheriff’s sheriff,” Britt said, adding that Ferrell’s vision helped create the Metro Narcotics Unit. “He knew we could get a lot more accomplished for the area by working together.

“And whether you liked Tommy or not, he was a good sheriff and a good leader. I always admired the way he ran his office … and I tried to do the same when I was sheriff.”

Ferrell was a retired second-generation sheriff in Adams County, following in the steps of his father, Billy Ferrell.

Ferrell began his law enforcement career in 1969 and retired in January 2004 after serving 35 years in law enforcement. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, he completed numerous federal and state training programs and was a federal expert witness in law enforcement and investigations, a certified firearms instructor and trainer and certified in rotor wing aircraft.

In addition to serving on various task forces at the state and federal levels, Ferrell was past-president of the National Sheriffs’ Association serving in 2002-2003. He served twice as president of the Mississippi SheriffsAssociation and twice was elected president of the Mississippi Deputy Sheriffs Association.

He retired with the rank of colonel after 34 years of service from the U.S. Army, Military Police Branch, MSARNG. He was a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army Officer Basic and Advanced Courses. He served with the Criminal Intelligence Division and was a former Military Police Investigator. Ferrell was presented more than 25 awards during his tenure in the military and held extensive commendations including overseas duty and natural disasters.

Britt said he believed Ferrell’s military experience combined with the lessons taught by his father, helped shape his vision and his career.

“Tommy was always thorough. And he knew the law. A lot of that had to do with his military background and his daddy. He had that structure.”

More important, Britt said, Ferrell possessed the single most important trait for a successful and effective sheriff.

“You have to be able to make decisions – split-second decisions sometimes – and right, wrong or indifferent, you have to be able to live with that decision,” Britt said. “Tommy was good at that. He made the decisions and he could live with them.”

Billy Neely, a chief deputy in the Adams County Sheriff’s Department, remembered Ferrell as “a good sheriff, a very thorough sheriff, and a good boss.”

Neely said Ferrell knew the law inside and out, having followed in the footsteps of his father, Sheriff Billy Ferrell.

“I came to the sheriff’s office in 1982 and Billy Ferrell retired in 1988. Tommy ran for sheriff in 1987 and became sheriff in 1988. He remained in office until 2003,” Neely said. “He was a good sheriff and a good boss. He was a military man and had been in the National Guard. He ran a tight ship, but was a good guy and a real good boss.”

Ferrell’s son, Ty, is self-employed and his daughter, Cricket, is an attorney and assistant vice principal at Adams County Christian School.

Funeral services for Ferrell are Monday at 2:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, Natchez. Visitation will begin at 1 p.m. and continue until the time of the funeral service.