Was it a police cover-up?
Jackson, Miss., officials blame “miscommunication” for why 37-year-old Dexter Wade wound up buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave after his body went unclaimed.
But Jackson police knew his identity and how to contact his mother, Bettersten Wade, who searched for months to find him and routinely called the police for updates on Dexter’s whereabouts.
Wade’s family’s wrongful death lawsuit against a Jackson police officer and the city – in a separate case involving her brother – clouds the official explanation of what happened.
“They had me looking for him (Dexter) all that time, and they knew who he was,” Bettersten told NBC News, which first reported the story on Wednesday (Oct. 25).
She speculated that the lawsuit could have influenced how the police handled her son’s missing person case. “Maybe it was a vendetta. Maybe they buried my son to get back at me,” she said.
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NBC News based its investigation on interviews with Dexter’s family, a coroner’s investigator, and official documents, some obtained through public records requests.
Here’s a short timeline: A coroner's investigator discovered Dexter’s identity three days after he died on March 5 and told the police after Dexter’s identity was confirmed on March 9 through a fingerprints match. But the police did not notify Bettersten until Aug. 24, and officials took her to his gravesite in early October. His remains were buried with other unclaimed bodies in a field at the Hinds County penal farm.
NBC News reports that Wade, a father of two teenage daughters, was walking across a six-lane highway on March 5 at about 8 p.m. when an off-duty Jackson officer driving a police SUV struck and killed Dexter, less than a mile from Bettersten’s home where he lived. .
Investigators ruled the death was an accident. A toxicology report noted that Dexter had PCP and methamphetamine in his system. A coroner’s investigator, LaGrand Elliot, confirmed his identity and next of kin, Bettersten, on March 8 by contacting the medical facility that prescribed the medication bottle in his pocket.
Elliot told NBC News that he called Bettersten and left a voicemail when he received no answer. But Bettersten told the network’s reporters that she doesn’t remember receiving the call.
Elliott said he confirmed Dexter’s identification on March 9, when the state crime lab said his fingerprints matched those it had on file for him. He passed all the information he gathered to the Jackson Police Department’s accident investigation unit so it could notify Bettersten.
Betterson first notified the police on March 15 that her son was missing. The police assigned an investigator to the case. Meanwhile, she tried to find Dexter alone, asking neighbors and Dexter’s friends what they knew or saw and posting his pictures on Facebook.
The police finally notified Bettersten on Aug. 24 that Dexter was dead and buried in a pauper’s grave because no one claimed his remains.
In a separate case, the family filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force and poor police training in the death of Bettersten’s 62-year-old brother, George Robinson, who died two days after an arrest and confrontation with Jackson police officers in 2019.
Witnesses and the indictments for second-degree murder said the officers body-slammed Robinson’s head and struck him multiple times to get him to comply, WBLT reported.
A jury convicted former officer Anthony Fox of culpable negligence manslaughter, and the judge sentenced him in 2022 to serve five years in prison. Two other Jackson police officers, Lincoln Lampley and Desmond Barney, were cleared of murder charges.
In addition to using excessive force, the family alleged in the lawsuit that the police attempted to cover up their actions and accused the city of failing to train and supervise them properly.
The city has denied the allegations, saying it isn’t liable.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump has been retained by Wade’s family to represent them and called what happened a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
“The fact that Dexter's tragic end involved an off-duty police officer only deepens the wounds of this community and raises troubling questions about the integrity of those entrusted with upholding the law,” Crump said in a statement.
The Jackson Police Department did not respond to NBC’s detailed questions about how it handled Dexter’s death.
A spokesperson for Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba emailed a statement to NBC News offering “our sincerest prayers and condolences” to Dexter’s family.
“There was miscommunication but there was no malicious intent anywhere in this whole situation,” the spokesperson, Melissa Faith Payne, told NBC News, adding that the police did not intentionally harm Dexter or his family.
But Bettersten still has doubts about the official version. She wondered, for example, how Dexter got to the highway in less than 30 minutes on foot after leaving their home.
“I just feel like something else must have happened. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
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