Mississippi man killed by police SUV receives funeral months after first burial in paupers' cemetery

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Dexter Wade received a dignified funeral and burial Monday in Mississippi's capital city, months after he was hit and killed by a police SUV and officials first buried his body in a pauper's grave without notifying his family that he was dead.

Under a gray sky, his mother, Bettersten Wade, tossed a handful of dirt onto the vault that held his shiny red casket after it was slowly lowered into the ground in a south Jackson cemetery where, so far, only a few other bodies are buried.

Surrounded by family and friends, she said to her son: “I'll see your face again.”

Dexter Wade, a 37-year-old Black man, died March 5 after an off-duty Jackson Police Department officer struck him with a department SUV while Wade was walking across Interstate 55. Police have not released identifying information, including the officer’s race. The Associated Press called three phone numbers for police department administrators and a public information officer Monday evening; nobody answered the calls, and there was no way to leave a message.

Wade’s mother said she last saw her son that day, and she filed a missing person’s report a few days later. It was late August before she learned he had been killed and buried in a paupers' cemetery near the Hinds County Penal Farm in the Jackson suburb of Raymond.

Wade's body was exhumed Nov. 13, and independent autopsy was conducted. A wallet found in the pocket of the jeans in which Wade originally was buried contained his state identification card with his home address, credit card and a health insurance card, said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Wade's family.

Wade's new gravesite is about 8.5 miles (13.7 kilometers) from the first one.

Crump said Monday that he has been speaking to Justice Department officials as he urges them to investigate why Jackson police and other local officials failed to notify Wade's family of his death.

“Justice and respect go hand-in-hand,” Crump said.

Crump said Campaign Zero, a group that works to end police violence, helped Bettersten Wade with Monday's service because she wanted her only son to have “a respectable funeral as the first step to get justice.”

More than 200 people, including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, attended the funeral at New Horizon International Church in Jackson. The service took place the day before what would have been Wade's 38th birthday.

Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, each placed an arm around Bettersten Wade as she stood before her son's flower-covered casket under a large cross in the sanctuary.

Sharpton, who is based in New York, said he traveled to Jackson to deliver the eulogy because he wanted to give words of comfort to Wade's family and “words of discomfort to the state of Mississippi,” including to the city of Jackson and its police department.

“What happened to Dexter was a disgrace, a national outrage, and should be treated as such,” Sharpton said.

Jackson is majority-Black, has a Black mayor and majority-Black city council and has had Black police chiefs for years, including the chief when Wade was killed. In the 1960s, when the city was majority-white and had all-white officials and a white police chief, civil rights leaders pushed for hiring of Black police officers.

Sharpton said Monday that he had been told that the officer who struck and killed Wade was Black.

“I don't care if he's Black or white — what he did was wrong,” Sharpton said.

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. She 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.