Lawyer wants federal probe of why Mississippi police waited months to tell a mom her son was killed

A civil rights attorney says he will ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate why authorities in Jackson, Mississippi, waited months to tell a woman that her son had been struck and killed by a police SUV driven by an off-duty officer

Emily Wagster Pettus
Monday 30 October 2023 22:04 GMT
Police SUV Death Mississippi
Police SUV Death Mississippi

A civil rights attorney said Monday he will ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate why authorities in Mississippi's capital city waited several months to tell a woman that her son died after being hit by a police SUV driven by an off-duty officer.

Bettersten Wade last saw 37-year-old Dexter Wade when he left home March 5, attorney Ben Crump said during a news conference in Jackson. She filed a missing-person report a few days later.

Bettersten Wade said it was late August before she learned her son had been killed by a Jackson Police Department vehicle as he crossed Interstate 55 the day she last saw him.

Dexter Wade was buried in a pauper's cemetery near the Hinds County Penal Farm in the Jackson suburb of Raymond before the family was notified of his death, NBC News reported last week.

Crump said he and other attorneys will petition a court to have the body exhumed and an autopsy done. He also said Wade will be given a proper funeral.

“In our community, in the Black community, it is a very religious occasion when we return a body to the earth,” Crump said.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba mentioned Wade's death during the State of the City speech last week.

“The accident was investigated, and it was determined that it was, in fact, an accident and that there was no malicious intent,” Lumumba said.

A coroner identified Wade partly from a bottle of prescription medication Wade had with him, and the coroner called a medical clinic to get information about Wade's next of kin, Crump said. The coroner was unable to reach Bettersten Wade but told Jackson police multiple times to contact her, Crump said.

Crump also said the Jackson Police Department should have had contact information for her because Bettersten Wade had filed lawsuits against the department after her brother, 62-year-old George Robinson, died following a police encounter in January 2019.

Three Jackson officers were accused of pulling Robinson from a car, body-slamming him on pavement and striking him in the head and chest as police were searching for a murder suspect. Robinson had been hospitalized for a stroke days before the police encounter and was on medication. He had a seizure hours after he was beaten, and he died two days later from bleeding on his brain.

Crump said Bettersten Wade attended the criminal trial of Anthony Fox, one of the Jackson officers charged in Robinson’s death. In August 2022, a Hinds County jury convicted Fox of culpable negligence manslaughter. Second-degree murder charges against two officers were dropped.

In July of this year, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked the state Court of Appeals to overturn Fox's conviction. Fitch, a Republican who is seeking a second term in the Nov. 7 election, argued that prosecutors failed to prove the core element of culpable negligence manslaughter, which is “wanton disregard of, or utter indifference to, the safety of human life.”

Crump said Wade has ample reason to be skeptical about receiving fair treatment in Mississippi as she seeks answers about her son's death.

“If this was your loved one, and they had killed another loved one, and they knew you were filing a major wrongful-death lawsuit — if it was you in Bettersten’s shoes, what would you believe?” Crump said.

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