Man buried without family’s knowledge was carrying ID, lawyer says

A Mississippi man hit by an off-duty police officer driving a police car, buried without family knowledge, then exhumed without relatives present identified himself despite claims he did not, a family attorney said Thursday after an independent autopsy.

Dexter Wade’s family expressed outrage that they had not been contacted or informed of his death, and city officials defended the lack of contact, saying they did not immediately know Wade’s identity because he was undocumented for identity. But the results of an independent autopsy debunk the city’s claims, indicating that Wade, 37, was in fact carrying identification and the family could have been notified immediately.

Wade’s body was “completely run over” by the cruiser, with multiple blunt force injuries to his skull, ribs and pelvis, and his left leg was amputated, civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump said. He cited the findings of pathologist Frank Peretti, who was employed by the family. The body was also in an “advanced stage of decomposition” and had not been embalmed, Crump said.

The wallet in the front pocket of his jeans contained his state ID card with his home address, along with his credit card and health insurance card, Crump said.

“The fact that Dexter had a government ID 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 next of kin of the death of an identified person.”

A full autopsy report is expected soon.

Earlier, the mayor said no identification was found

On March 5, an off-duty Jackson police officer driving a police SUV struck and killed Wade while crossing Interstate 55. Wade’s mother soon filed a missing person’s report, but was not told what happened for months afterward . NBC News reported that police knew Wade’s name and that of his mother but were unable to contact her, instead leaving his body unclaimed for months at the county morgue.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said last month that Wade was “without identification,” but noted that the medical examiner later identified him through fingerprints and a bottle of prescription medication he had on him.

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

He added that Bettersten had not been contacted because “there was a lack of communication with the missing persons unit, the coroner’s office and the accident investigation”, and called it an “unfortunate and tragic incident”.

Crump said the medical examiner contacted a medical clinic to get information about Wade’s next of kin, but was unable to contact his mother, Bettersten Wade. He showed a report saying that between March and July, the investigator called Jackson police seven times to see if they had contacted the next of kin, to which the department said no.

A spokesman for the city of Jackson said Wade’s body remained in the Hinds County Detention Center since the medical examiner arrived at the crash scene. He said the authority to investigate, bury and exhume belongs to the county, not the city.

The Hinds County Medical Examiner’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

The body was exhumed without the presence of the family

Wade’s body was exhumed Monday after calls from the family and Crump for an independent autopsy and burial.

Bethersten Wade was told by county officials last week that the exhumation would begin at 11:30 a.m., but when she arrived, along with community advocates and members of the media, officials had exhumed his body at 8 a.m., hours ahead of schedule and without notice, said Crump.

“Dexter, a young black man, was buried with no more dignity and respect than an animal that no human being deserves. This case has shown us time and time again that local officials cannot be trusted in this matter and there are clear conflicts of interest,” Crump said. “Now, more strongly than ever, we are renewing our calls for the Department of Justice to investigate all local organizations involved in Dexter’s death and what his mother suspects was a cover-up.”

Contributing: Charlie Drape, USA TODAY Network

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