Dexter Wade’s death and the monthslong failure of the Jackson Police Department to notify his family deserve federal scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice, civil-rights attorney Ben Crump said as he joined family members at a press conference on Monday, Oct. 30.
Wade’s mother, Bettersten Wade, reported her 37-year-old son missing in March. But not until late August did the Jackson Police Department inform her that he had died on March 5 after an SUV driven by an off-duty Jackson police officer hit him while he was trying to cross Interstate 55. Dexter Wade’s body remained in the local morgue until late July when the county buried him in an unmarked grave without his family’s knowledge. The coroner’s office labeled the death an accident, NBC News reported on Oct. 25.
On Oct. 27, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said his office’s review did not find “any police misconduct in this process or that there was any malicious intent,” but instead attributed the failures to “a lack of communication with the missing person’s division, the coroner’s office and accident investigation.”
As he called for the federal government to step in on Monday, though, Crump expressed skepticism over the mayor’s claims.
“It’s hard to accept that with a leap of faith,” he said. During the press conference, the attorney held up a piece of paper that he said documented numerous case notes from former Hinds County Coroner’s office investigator LaGrand Elliot instructing JPD to contact Wade’s family and make a death notification to his next-of-kin: his mother.
Crump has represented many other Black families in high-profile cases around the country, including the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, George Floyd and Tyre Nichols.
Bettersten Wade said she believes the failure to notify her family of the accident and her son’s death was intentional and that it speaks to a personal vendetta Jackson police have against them tied to their efforts to hold Jackson police officers accountable for the 2019 death of her brother, George Robinson. She suggested she would have been on the department’s radar and that JPD should have known where to find her.
“How could you not say this is a vendetta? I put in a missing person’s report. There’s my address; there’s my phone number. How could they not put all that together?” Bettersten Wade said at the press conference Monday. JPD has refused to comment on the case.
In a statement on Oct. 26, City of Jackson Communications Director Melissa Faith Payne said that at the time of Dexter Wade’s death, “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.”
“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,” the statement said.
Despite Payne’s assertion that the contact information JPD officers had on file for the family was “outdated,” Bettersten Wade said the phone number she had in March is the same phone number she has today. Crump also questioned why no JPD officer attempted to reach her in person to let her know of her son’s death until late August—nearly six months later.
2019 Death of George Robinson
Bettersten Wade is no stranger to Jackson Police. Her 62-year-old brother, George Robinson, died in 2019 after an encounter with JPD officers who were patrolling the area looking for the killer of Pastor Anthony Longino. Though Robinson had no connection to the murder, witnesses at the time said they saw officers drag the man out of the car, bodyslam him and beat him with a flashlight.
At the time of his death, he had been recovering from a stroke that left him hospitalized for 10 days.
In 2020, a grand jury indicted three officers for second-degree murder over Robinson’s death, but the following year, Hinds County Judge Faye Peterson dismissed charges against two of the officers, citing a lack of evidence that the officers conspired “to commit an unlawful act against Mr. Robinson.” A jury convicted the third officer, Anthony Fox, in August 2022 of negligent manslaughter; Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Adrienne Wooten sentenced him to five years in a state prison.
This July, however, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch urged the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn Fox’s conviction. The appeal is still in progress, and the court has not made a decision.
‘Do We Have A System That Works For Us?’
“Do we have a system that works for us?” Bettersten Wade asked at Monday’s press conference. She said she went to the Jackson Police Department several times desperate for help finding her then-missing son but could have never imagined that JPD was somehow involved in his disappearance and death.
“I gave y’all the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “I came to y’all. If I figured y’all did something to him, why would I come to y’all? I kept saying it was just not normal for him not to call me. That’s why I reached out (to the police).”
Ben Crump said that he wants the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved in the case but that his immediate next step is petitioning Hinds County Circuit Court to have Dexter Wade’s body exhumed so that his family may be able to give him “a proper funeral and make sure he has a headstone.”
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said in a statement on Oct. 27 that his office is monitoring developments in the case and that they are working with other law-enforcement agencies to review the investigation and handling of Wade’s death.
“The Hinds County District Attorney’s Office is aware of, and monitoring, the situation surrounding the death of Dexter Wade, the failure to notify Mr. Wade’s next-of-kin, and the irregularities surrounding the disposition of Mr. Wade’s body,” Owens said.
“We ask for the public’s patience as this important work is undertaken.”
The City has not identified the off-duty JPD officer who hit and killed Dexter Wade on March 5.