A Black man who died after he was hit by a police SUV in Mississippi was buried in a pauper's cemetery without his family's knowledge, even though his state ID was in his pocket, indicating a serious effort to cover up the manner of his death, the family's lawyer said Thursday.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a statement that the body of Dexter Wade was exhumed Monday, and that a wallet subsequently found in the pocket of the jeans Wade had been buried in contained his state identification card with his home address, his credit card and a health insurance card.
Crump urged the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Wade’s death and its aftermath.
“The fact that Dexter had a state identification card and several other identifying items shows us that there was a concerted effort to keep the truth and manner of his death from his family,” Crump said. “There is no excuse, not even incompetence, for not notifying a next of kin of an identified man’s death.”
Representatives of the Jackson Police Department and the Hinds County Coroner’s Office did not immediately respond to calls and text messages requesting comment.
Wade, 37, died March 5 after he was hit by a Jackson Police Department vehicle driven by an off-duty officer. He was buried in a pauper’s cemetery before his family was notified of his death.
Crump confirmed to The Associated Press that the address on the ID card matched the address of Wade's mother, Bettersten Wade, who said she didn't learn of her son's death until months after he was buried.
In addition, Dr. Frank Peretti — who performed the autopsy this week — found that Wade's body had not been embalmed. Peretti concluded that Wade suffered multiple blunt force injuries, and that his left leg had been amputated, Crump said.
Wade's mother said she last saw her son on March 5 and she filed a missing person's report a few days later. But it wasn't until late August that she learned her son had been killed by a Jackson Police Department vehicle as he crossed Interstate 55.
An investigator from the Hinds County coroner’s office responded to the accident scene but did not find any identification while examining Wade's body, NBC News reported. The coroner did find a bottle of prescription medication in his pocket with his name on it.
The Hinds County coroner’s office said it called a number listed for Bettersten Wade but did not hear back. Bettersten Wade said she never received the call. The coroner's office also told Jackson police multiple times to contact her, Crump said. City officials have said the communication breakdown was an accident.
Wade’s family members and attorneys won the right to exhume his body Monday, but they did not get to see the exhumation because it took place hours before county officials said it would.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.