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The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi told the public what he thought about the killing of a Black man who was run over by an off-duty cop in a police car and whose death was kept a secret from his family.
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba opted to call Dexter Wade’s death a “tragic” and “unfortunate accident,” but also stated there was “no malicious intent” on the part of city authorities who buried Wade without notifying his mother.
Wade’s mother, Bettersten Wade, recently retained the legal services of civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who called this terrible ordeal “a living nightmare for any mother.”
“The secrecy surrounding [Dexter’s] 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.
Wade looked for her 37-year-old son for over seven months after he mysteriously disappeared in March.
However, just an hour after Wade left home on March 5, he was struck by an off-duty corporal, whose name has not been released, in a Jackson police car as he was crossing an interstate highway. Authorities took the body to a morgue where it went unclaimed for months.
What adds insult to injury is that they knew the names of both Dexter and his mother and never contacted Bettersten even after she filed a missing person report. When Wade called police about her missing son, they said no one had been able to find him.
“They had me looking for him all that time, and they knew who he was,” Bettersten Wade told NBC News.
Instead, the county buried Wade’s body in an unmarked grave in a penal farm in late July. They didn’t inform his mother until late August.
No sobriety test was run on the cop who killed Wade. He was also never cited for violating any traffic laws. Authorities did, however, run a toxicology test on Wade’s body which revealed that he had PCP and methamphetamine in his system. The family said he also suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but there is nothing to connect the crash to his mental or physiological state at the time he was hit.
After news of Wade’s death made headlines this week, Lumumba called for a moment of silence while delivering his 2023 State of the City address in downtown Jackson on Thursday.
“It is tragic to lose your child. It is tragic to suffer the consequences of having to bury your child before you pass. But to add insult to that trauma, it is even more difficult to not have the ability to have a proper burial for your child,” Lumumba said. “And for that, we regret a circumstance that Mr. Wade’s family has had to deal with.”
No admitted mistakes. No accountability. And no promise of reform or pledge of change.
The closest the mayor came to offering some semblance of transparency was when he accounted for what led to the poor city and police response to Wade’s death.
“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.
Reports show that three days after Wade’s death, the Hinds County coroner’s office attempted to call his mother once, although Bettersten said she never received a call.
Lumumba said some confusion arose over whether the coroner’s office had the correct phone number, but Bettersten stated that the number listed on the coroner’s report was accurate. After that sole attempt to make contact, the office promptly turned the information over to the Jackson Police Department “because it is their jurisdiction so that they can do the proper death notification.”
While Bettersten told NBC she appreciates the sympathetic words from Mayor Lumumba, she said they are not enough to address the city’s failures.
“You’re going to tell me that you are just going to get in touch by phone to tell me my son is dead?” she told NBC News. “What happened to a knock on the door to tell me my son is dead? Are you telling me that you all didn’t tell me the whole time because you didn’t have the correct phone number? I paid dearly for a mistake when you all could have just stepped on my doorstep.”
Crump has yet to reveal if the Wade family will take legal action.
The Mississippi Free Press reported that last year, Bettersten Wade and her family filed a lawsuit against Jackson Police after her brother, George Robinson, was beaten to death by police in 2019. In August 2022, a jury convicted a JPD officer of manslaughter in that case and that cop was sentenced to five years in prison.