JACKSON, Miss.—Dexter Wade’s death and Hinds County’s subsequent decision to bury him in an unmarked grave without informing his mother was “tragic” but “there was no malicious intent,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said Thursday.
Wade was walking across the southbound lane of Interstate 55 when a Jackson police officer hit and killed him on March 5. Though the coroner’s office ruled it an accident and was able to positively identify him within days, the 37-year-old man’s body remained in a morgue until the County buried him in an unmarked grave at its penal farm in late July.
His mother, Bettersten Wade, filed a missing person’s report on March 14, but JPD did not inform her of her son’s death until late August.
“They had me looking for him all that time, and they knew who he was,” Bettersten Wade told NBC News’ Jon Schuppe, who first reported this story on Wednesday.
While delivering his 2023 State of the City address at The Rookery in downtown Jackson on Thursday, Lumumba called for a moment of silence in recognition of Dexter Wade’s death.
“We recognize the tremendous loss that his mother suffered and his family suffered, we lift them up in our prayers collectively as a city and continue to support them.”
Lumumba said the City investigated the matter but did not find “any police misconduct in this process or that there was any malicious intent.”
“There was a lack of communication with the missing person’s division, the coroner’s office and accident investigation. Because of that, they were unable to find (Dexter Wade’s) family within an expeditious period of time and he was later buried once the coroner went to the Hind’s County Board of Supervisors in order to get permission to do so,” the mayor said.
The Hinds County coroner’s office investigator who identified Dexter Wade’s body, LaGrand Elliot, told NBC News that after one failed attempt at reaching Bettersten Wade, he turned the information over to JPD “because it is their jurisdiction so that they can do the proper death notification.”
Ben Crump: ‘A Living Nightmare For Any Mother’
Mayor Lumumba’s remarks Thursday came shortly before famed attorney Ben Crump revealed in a press release that Bettersten Wade had retained him for any potential litigation over her son’s death.
“Dexter’s story is a living nightmare for any mother. The secrecy surrounding his death, the alleged concealment of vital information and the callous burial in a pauper’s field are not just oversights—they are a grave miscarriage of justice,” Crump said.
At his State of the City address, Lumumba said he regrets that Dexter Wade’s mother and family could not have a proper burial for her son but denied that there was any police misconduct. He called Dexter Wade’s death “honestly, an unfortunate and tragic accident.”
Officials have not identified the off-duty Jackson police officer who struck Wade in his cruiser on March 5. Bettersten Wade is now raising money on GoFundMe to exhume her son’s body and rebury him.
Last year, Bettersten Wade and her family filed a lawsuit against the Jackson Police Department over the 2019 beating death of her brother, George Robinson. In August 2022, a jury convicted and a Hinds County judge sentenced one JPD officer to serve five years in prison for manslaughter in that case. No one has alleged a connection between his death and Dexter Wade’s death.
City Launches JPD Drone Program, Other Initiatives
The theme of Lumumba’s State of the City speech this year was to highlight the “shared responsibility” that City of Jackson employees have to make Mississippi’s capital city a better place. He recognized several departments in the City and shared videos of employees talking about their roles.
“(These) individuals are putting their hands in the soil. We’re a lot smarter together. This city won’t see the progress that we need to see because the mayor has all the answers or because the administration is smart or because our council is capable. We’ll be able to do it because we can get into a room, establish where we may have unity and debate where we may have differences of opinion,” he said.
- The Jackson Fire Department has lowered the age for recruits from 21 to 18.
- The City opened the Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery, which will work to reduce crime.
- A new drone pilot program in the Jackson Police Department to help officers in its investigations division and with search and rescue efforts
- The City of Jackson has adopted its first-ever parental leave policy for City employees, which includes up to eight weeks of paid leave for birth or adoption.
- Public Works has a plan to start paving neighborhood roads.
“As we move forward, we have significant challenges in our city. We want to make sure that the quality of life that Jacksonians receive is commensurate with how special they truly are. I’m grateful for all of y’all’s hard work and I look forward to rolling up our sleeves and doing more,” Lumumba said.