Dexter Wade, 37, was buried in a pauper's grave in Jackson, Mississippi, after he was fatally struck by an off-duty police officer in March, authorities say. His family says police never tried to contact them or allow them to collect his body.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is calling on the Department of Justice to investigate why Dexter Wade ― a Mississippi man who authorities say was hit and killed by an off-duty police officer’s vehicle ― was quietly buried by the city in a pauper’s grave as his mother repeatedly contacted police for help finding him.
“For six months, she didn’t know where he was at,” Crump said at a press conference Monday alongside Wade’s mother, Bettersten Wade, who says she filed a missing person report with the Jackson Police Department days after her son’s disappearance in March, and that she repeatedly asked police to check their morgue.
“They had my address. They had my phone number — the same thing on his medical records. How could they not, how could they not put all of that together?” Bettersten Wade said. “Our police department is supposed to help.”
Bettersten said it wasn’t until Aug. 24 that she learned that her son was dead, and that his body had been discharged by the morgue and buried in a pauper’s field. His grave was given a marker reading “No. 672.”
Wade was found buried in a pauper's cemetery under the marker "672." The family is seeking an exhumation so Wade's body can undergo an independent autopsy and receive a proper burial.
Crump said Dexter Wade, 37, was found without identification cards, but that the coroner’s office was able to identify him through his fingerprints and a prescription medication that was found on him.
The coroner’s office tried calling Bettersten Wade. When the attempt was unsuccessful, the coroner shared her number with the police department so they could reach out as well, and the coroner repeatedly checked in with police to see if they’d made contact, Crump said.
“The coroner was saying, ‘Have you called her? Have you called her? Have you made contact?’” Crump said.
Both Crump and Bettersten Wade expressed suspicion about whether police ever actually tried to call.
“She didn’t see anything where she was getting contacted... by the Jackson Police Department,” Crump said.
The police department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Bettersten Wade alleges that police intentionally didn’t reach out to her because of a lawsuit she’d previously filed against the department related to her brother’s death in 2019. Her brother, George Robinson, 62, died two days after he was beaten by police during a traffic stop. Robinson’s death was ruled a homicide and an officer involved was later convicted of manslaughter, though he is now appealing his conviction.
Bettersten believes that because of that lawsuit, local police have a “vendetta” against her.
The city’s mayor, who addressed Dexter Wade’s death in public remarks last week, blamed a lack of communication between the police department’s missing persons division and the coroner’s office, but said there’s no evidence of police misconduct or malicious intent.
“The accident was investigated, and it was determined that it was, in fact, an accident and that there was no malicious intent,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who said Dexter was fatally struck while he attempted to cross a highway.
Crump said he wants Dexter’s body to be exhumed so it can undergo an independent autopsy and receive a proper burial.
“We will not rest until the full truth is revealed, and those responsible for this injustice are held accountable,” Crump said in a statement. “Dexter’s memory will not be forgotten, and his story will fuel our fight for a fair and just society where every life is valued and protected, regardless of who they are.”
A spokesperson for the DOJ told HuffPost that the department is aware of the investigation request, but that it had no further comment.
A spokesperson for the city of Jackson also declined comment.
“Though our hearts and prayers remain with the Wade family, we can not comment on this situation further, due to pending litigation,” they said in a statement Wednesday.