One year after a jury convicted a Jackson Police officer of manslaughter for the beating death of her brother, Bettersten Wade learned that another JPD officer had struck and killed her 37-year-old son, Dexter Wade, in an SUV and that the county had buried him an unmarked grave. Dexter Wade had been missing for nearly six months before the department informed his mother of her son’s fate.
“They had me looking for him all that time, and they knew who he was,” Wade told NBC News’ Jon Schuppe, who first reported this story on Wednesday.
The report says an off-duty corporal driving a JPD cruiser struck Dexter Wade as he was walking across Interstate 55’s southbound lane shortly before 8 p.m. on March 5, 2023, and that the coroner’s office later ruled the death an accident. The story does not name the officer who was driving the SUV and the Jackson Police Department offered no comment for this story.
Buried In A Pauper’s Field
Dexter Wade had a prescription bottle on him with his name on it at the time of his death, Schuppe reported. By March 9, investigators had confirmed his identity using the prescription bottle and by matching his fingerprints to ones they had on file from prior arrests. An investigator told NBC News that after attempting to contact Bettersten Wade unsuccessfully, he turned the information over to the Jackson Police Department so they could notify the family.
“Once we get that information I turn it over to police because it is their jurisdiction so that they can do the proper death notification,” NBC News quoted the Hinds County coroner’s office investigator, LaGrand Elliott, saying.
Bettersten Wade told NBC that she did not receive a call, but instead spent months in contact with JPD while trying to find her son and conducting her own search, including exploring abandoned homes. She also posted repeated pleas on Facebook that her son would never see.
“You don’t have to come home just let us know you all right. We love you,” Dexter Wade’s mother wrote on July 16 as his body lay miles away in the local morgue. The post was similar to ones she had been writing since March.
Those posts ended on Aug. 27 when Bettersten Wade posted a final update letting family and friends know that her son had gone on to “a better place.”
The day before, a JPD officer had come to her home and told her the truth about how her son had died after an off-duty officer struck him on the interstate in March. Nearly six months had passed since she first filed a missing persons report on March 14, 2023. After keeping his body in the morgue for months, the county had buried Dexter Wade in a pauper’s field at the Hinds County penal farm in late July at a grave marked only as No. 672.
She is now raising money on GoFundMe to exhume his body and rebury him. “My son was mentally ill … they say he was trying to cross the freeway and (an) officer hit him in a SUV,” the GoFundMe says. “I need help so I can give him a proper resting place.” She has raised $7,255 so far.
‘They Brutalized My Brother’
Bettersteen Wade’s mother, Vernice Robinson, initially advised her daughter not to go to the police to file a missing person’s report when Dexter Wade went missing in early March 2023.
“My mama told me, ‘They’re not going to do anything,’” Bettersten Wade told NBC News. “But I had to do something to find Dexter, and I thought that was the best way.”
Four years earlier, Vernice Robinson had lost her son, George Robinson. On Jan. 13, 2019, Jackson Police officers were searching for the killer of Rev. Anthony Longino in the city’s Washington Addition when they encountered the 62-year-old man, who had no connection with the New Bethany Missionary Baptist Church pastor’s murder.
Witnesses said they saw officers pull George Robinson from his car, bodyslam him and beat him with flashlights. The man, who had still been recovering from a stroke he’d suffered less than a month earlier around Christmas, later died of a subdural hemorrhage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center that evening.
“I feel that the officers that was involved in this, they should be just like any other citizen: They should be in jail because they brutalized my brother,” Bettersten Wade said at a press conference alongside her mother in the Washington Addition in January 2019. “And my mom, she’s hurting. She’s in pain. And how anybody can justify that? Justice is what we want. And we want justice. We want them to protect us and serve us just like they do anybody else. We want justice.”
In 2020, a grand jury indicted three officers for second-degree murder over George Robinson’s death. But in May 2021, Hinds County Judge Faye Peterson dismissed charges against two of those officers, Lincoln Lampley and Desmond Barney, saying there was “no proof” they were “conspiring to commit an unlawful act against Mr. Robinson.”
Charges against another officer, Anthony Fox, stood; in August 2022, a jury convicted him of negligent manslaughter for Robinson’s death. Hinds County Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten sentenced Fox to 20 years with 15 suspended for a total of five years behind bars. Later that month, Bettersten Wade and her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit over her brother’s death; while a judge dismissed some of those claims, others remain pending in court.
But on July 10, 2023, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked a state appeals court to reverse Fox’s sentence. In a brief, the white Republican attorney general argued that George Robinson “failed to follow Fox’s commands or to show his hands” after the office ordered him to get out of the car. “In the struggle, Robinson got a small, superficial abrasion on his forehead. He had no other visible injuries or symptoms of injuries. … Several hours later, Robinson—who was 62, had health problems, and was on medication—suffered a seizure and two days later died of a subdural hematoma,” Fitch’s filing continued, saying the conviction “should not stand.”
In an interview with NBC, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, a Black Democrat, accused Fitch of undermining the jury and local elected officials. For years, white Republican state leaders have sought to usurp more and more authority from the majority-Black capital city’s elected officials.
“It means she doesn’t care about my brother. She’s showing that she doesn’t have any kind of feelings for my brother. The only thing she has feelings for is a police officer,” Bettersten Wade told NBC News reporter Jon Schuppe in July. The same reporter would break the story of her son’s death three months later.
Mayor’s Office: ‘No Malicious Intent’
George Robinson and Dexter Wade’s family members have not alleged a connection between the deaths. The Jackson Police Department did not agree to comment for this story, directing reporters instead to Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba’s office.
Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne sent a statement to the Mississippi Free Press this morning, saying that “officers were unable to identify him at the time” of his death on March 5.
“Days later, the coroner’s office was able to identify the victim as Dexter Wade by way of medication found in his pocket. However, the contact information for Mr. Wade was outdated, and neither the coroner’s office nor investigating officers were able to make contact with Mr. Wade’s family,” the statement said. “Subsequently, on March 14th, Dexter Wade’s family reported him missing to the Jackson Police missing person’s unit. Missing persons officers did not know that the pedestrian victim from March 5th was the same person reported missing on March 14th. The lead detective in the missing person’s case continued to investigate until he retired in July.”
Payne said a second officer began a follow-up investigation in August “that led back to the coroner’s office.”
“Through collaborative efforts, they were able to close the missing person’s case, by identifying Dexter Wade as the pedestrian who was killed March 5th,” the statement continued. “While this is a very tragic and unfortunate accident, our investigation found no malicious intent by any Jackson police staff.”
Shaunicy Muhammad contributed to this report.