Hinds County exhumed Dexter Wade’s body from the local penal colony at 8 a.m. on Monday, hours before his family was set to arrive to witness his removal from the spot where local officials buried him long before notifying the family of his death.
The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, cited a signed letter from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to Dennis Sweet, another attorney for the family. The letter said the “exhuming will take place on Monday, November 13, 2023 at 11:30am.”
Crump and Sweet said they had an agreement with the Hinds County Board of Supervisors that Wade’s mother would be able to attend the exhumation. The family only learned that his body had already been removed when they arrived at the Hinds County Penal Farm.
Wade died in early March after an off-duty Jackson Police Department officer fatally struck him with his vehicle as he attempted to walk across the southbound lanes of Interstate 55. His mother Bettersten Wade searched for him for months and reported him missing to police on March 15. But even though Dexter Wade had a prescription bottle with his name on it and the coroner’s office had already determined his identity by the time his mother filed the police report, JPD did not inform her of his death until late August—over a month after his burial.
Wade’s family asked to exhume his body on Nov. 13 in preparation for an independent autopsy and a “proper burial” for their loved one, Crump said.
“It was an agreed upon position with the County that Ms. Bettersten Wade would be here at 11:30 to commence the exhumation of her son,” Crump said at a vigil on Nov. 13. “Like a thief in the night, they went and took the body out of the ground. Ms. Bettersten asked, ‘Who gave permission to public works? What are they hiding?’” Crump said.
“Is this how the system works?” Bettersten Wade asked on Nov. 13 at the vigil. “They put him in the ground without my permission; they dug him up without my permission.”
Crump and Wade’s family have questioned whether the lapse in communication from officials was related to the 2022 conviction of a JPD police officer charged in the beating death of her 62-year-old brother George Robinson. Robinson was pulled from a vehicle in the Washington Addition neighborhood and beaten by officers, witnesses said in January 2019. He died days later.
Bettersten Wade questioned how officials could claim they couldn’t get in touch with her to tell her that her son’s body had been identified when she would have been on their radar following the high-profile court case.
“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 a press conference on Oct. 30.
The Hinds County Coroner’s Office turned Dexter Wade’s body over to his family following the vigil. Crump said a public exhumation would have allowed for “full transparency” with the family and the public.
Since NBC News first reported about Wade’s death and subsequent burial, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said that the circumstances were not the result of police misconduct or maliciousness. “There was a lack of communication with the missing person’s division, the coroner’s office and accident investigation,” Lumumba said on Oct. 26.
At Monday’s vigil, Crump accused Jackson officials of shifting blame and “trying to wash the blood off their hands.”
“There is no excuse for the way this case has been handled,” the attorney said in a Nov. 13 statement following the vigil. “Every time Ms. Wade takes a step toward getting answers as to what happened to her son, Jackson officials bring her two steps back. We hoped today that Ms. Wade could receive some answers and closure, but once again she is just left with more questions and even more trauma.”
Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne sent a statement to the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 26 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,” the statement said. “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.”
“Subsequently, on March 14th, Dexter Wade’s family reported him missing to the Jackson Police missing person’s unit,” Payne continued. “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.”
When asked for comment today about Wade’s exhumation, Payne said “the City had no part in either his burial or exhumation. That was entirely with the county.”
Continued Calls for a DOJ Investigation
Officials have not said who approved the 8 a.m. exhumation. The Mississippi Free Press was unable to reach the Hinds County Board of Supervisors for comment for this story.
Hinds County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones told WAPT on Monday that the situation was “very unfortunate” but that there was “no cover-up or anything like that—just miscommunication.”
Attorney Crump continued to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct their own investigation into the circumstances around Wade’s death and burial. U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat whose district includes most of Jackson, also voiced support for a federal investigation in a statement on Monday.
“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Wade’s death are deeply troubling,” Thompson said. “The pain his mother and loved ones are enduring is unimaginable. The extensive local and national media coverage of this tragedy has prompted numerous calls to my office from concerned citizens in Jackson who are also searching for answers. The system owes Mr. Wade’s family an explanation for the callous manner in which his untimely death was mishandled.”
Crump said the family plans to have an independent autopsy conducted on Wade’s body. Campaign Zero, an organization based in Washington, D.C., is assisting with the costs. The attorney said the family plans to give him “a proper funeral” on Nov. 20 and that he expects civil-rights attorney and MSNBC host Al Sharpton to attend.
“Justice delayed is justice denied, and we will keep fighting for justice in Dexter’s name until his mother gets the closure she deserves,” Crump said.