Former Cocoa City Councilman killed during break-in, suspect in custody, police say

Wife finds James Wallen dead; Matthew Inklebarger taken into custody

Former Cocoa City Councilman killed during break-in, suspect in custody, police say
Former Cocoa City Councilman killed during break-in, suspect in custody, police say

COCOA, Fla. – A 75-year-old former Cocoa City Councilman was slain Friday afternoon during a random break-in at his home, police said.

Cocoa police identified the victim as James Wallen, who served as District 2 Councilman from 1979-1981 and 1983-1986.

Police said officers went to a home in the 1600 block of Manor Drive around 4:45 p.m. after a woman called 911 requesting medical assistance for her husband.

Wallen was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Matthew Inklebarger, 42, was arrested late Saturday in connection with the slaying and is being held without bond on federal charges, according to police.

Authorities said numerous leads helped them identify Inklebarger, who had federal warrants for probation violations, as the primary suspect.

Matthew Inklebarger.

Detectives said they believe Inklebarger traveled from Palm Bay to Cocoa to visit a a woman, identified by police as his friend, Cecilia Poteet, 44. During his visit, it is believed Inklebarger randomly broke into the Manor Drive home and encountered Wallen, who was killed, police said.

“We want our community to know, and the victim’s neighbors to know that they are no longer in danger from this individual,” Cocoa police Sgt. Doug Levine said. “I’m proud of our entire team for their hard work and diligence in this effort to make sure this suspect was apprehended with enough evidence to keep him locked up for good.”

Inklebarger stole several items from the home, according to police, but detectives are still searching for a motive as to why Wallen was killed. Levine said Inklebarger is “no stranger to jail and prison. He’s done some federal prison time for a bank robbery”

Poteet was also arrested. She also has prior criminal charges, according to Levine. The sergeant said she was arrested for dealing in stolen property.

Both arrests were made about 24 hours after Wallen’s death. Levine credited the skilled detective work for the quick turnaround.

“It was incredible watching all these people come together, work seamlessly, and have this resolution so quick,” Levine said.

Jim Wallen, 75, was a retired teacher and former Cocoa City Councilman. (Image courtesy of the Wallen family) (WKMG 2020)

Wallen was a retired teacher and spent his time volunteering. His family shared this statement on his passing:

“Jim was much more than a crime victim. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Additionally, he served the community he lived in and loved by working as a teacher for 37 years, serving on the Cocoa City Council and volunteering for Meals on Wheels. No one expects something like this to happen. But, it brings home the fragility of life and the importance of conveying your love to those around you at every opportunity.”

Cocoa police Detective Chris Haddaway who worked on this case was one of Wallen’s many students.

Haddaway recalled taking Wallen’s eighth grade English class.

“He always had a smile on his face. He was very upbeat and kind and caring and compassionate to everybody. Actually, as confrontation goes with students, you know, on all the hormonal days that we face. Young people never saw him go through conflict, he spoke to everybody in a mild manner was really willing to help us in any way,” the detective said.

The death of “someone that kind, caring and willing to give” is devastating to the community, Haddaway said.