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‘It ain’t over yet,’ says mother of JPD accident victim buried in pauper’s grave despite having an ID

On Monday, the mother of Dexter Wade finally got to tell her son goodbye.

The 37-year-old man, who had been battling mental illness, wandered across I-55 on March 5 when an off-duty officer driving a Jackson police cruiser ran into him and killed him. Jackson police have not released the officer’s name.

Wade’s mother, Bettersten, repeatedly called police to see if they had found her son, who vanished days before his death. They told her they couldn’t find him.

But the family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, said Wade’s wallet, which contained an identification card with his home address, was found in his jeans. “There is no excuse, not even incompetence, for not notifying a next of kin of an identified man’s death,” he said in a statement.

After his death, Wade was buried in a pauper’s cemetery, where graves are marked with numbers instead of names. It wasn’t until August that his mother finally learned what happened. His body was exhumed last week and was buried Monday at Cedarwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Jackson.

The story made national news.

Last month, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba called what happened an “unfortunate and tragic accident,” but at Monday’s memorial service, activist Al Sharpton called what happened a travesty.

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“That could have been my son,” Sharpton told those gathered at New Horizon Church in Jackson. “That could have been your son.”

His life “mattered, and we’re going to let it matter all over this country,” Sharpton said. “We’re here to demand Justice for Dexter Wade.”

Crump pointed to the discovery of the wallet as proof “there was a concerted effort to keep the truth and manner of his death from his family.”

Some are calling for a federal investigation, including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “The system owes Mr. Wade’s family an explanation for the callous manner in which his untimely death was mishandled,” he said in a statement.

Jackson City Councilman Kenny Stoked apologized Monday to the family, and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens says his office is reviewing the case.

The debacle was made worse last week when his mother asked to be present when his body was exhumed, but authorities went ahead without her.

In 2019, her 61-year-old brother, George Robinson, died after Jackson police officer Anthony Fox was accused of striking him in the head and slamming him to the ground. Fox, who was named Officer of the Year in 2014, was convicted of manslaughter resulting from culpable negligence and received a five-year sentence.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office is now asking the state Court of Appeals to reverse Fox’s conviction. “Fox could not reasonably have foreseen that death was likely to follow from an everyday effort to subdue a resisting, non-compliant suspect using traditional non-lethal means,” the office wrote.

“They had to exhume [slain NAACP leader] Medgar Evers to get justice” in 1994 when his killer was finally convicted, Crump said. “They had to exhume Dexter Wade to get justice.”

According to the Hinds County coroner’s office, it was about 8 p.m., two hours after sundown, when Wade tried to cross the southbound lanes of I-55 on March 5. The officer struck him, and the coroner ruled the death accidental. The autopsy found meth and PCP in Wade’s system.

Upon seeing the prescription bottle with Wade’s name, the coroner’s office contacted Hinds Behavioral Health Services, which confirmed he was a patient and provided the mother’s name and phone number, according to the coroner’s notes.

But when a deputy coroner tried to call, there was no answer, according to records. But Wade’s mother says she never received a call.

According to records, the deputy coroner checked with Jackson police several times, and when no one claimed the body, Wade was buried July 14 at the Hinds County Penal Farm.

Crump said Wade suffered multiple blunt force injuries to his skull, ribs and pelvis, according to the initial findings by pathologist Dr. Frank Peretti. The crash also severed Wade’s left leg.

“Just keep fighting with me,” his mother told those gathered, “because it ain’t over yet.”

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