Last month, we reported the story of Bettersten Wade, who had lost contact with her 37-year-old son, Dexter Wade, and wasn’t informed that her son was killed after being hit by a police car until several months after the fact. Dexter was buried in an unmarked grave without his family’s knowledge or consent shortly after his killing. Now, authorities in Jackson, Mississippi, have adopted a next-of-kin notification policy that should have been on the books amid the Wade family story and similar instances in which people were buried without their family members knowing.
According to NBC News, the new policy is actually a set of guidelines for how officers are to notify families when a loved one has died. In most of the country, these guidelines had already been enacted by law enforcement, but in Jackson, they had only been adopted recently after (and likely due to) the public outrage over Bettersten and Dexter’s tragic, cruel and obviously avoidable story.
Police Chief Joseph Wade announced the new policy on Nov. 13 following weeks of public outrage over the death of Dexter Wade, 37, whose mother searched for him for months before learning that he had already been buried. (The two Wade families are not related). The department provided a copy of the new next-of-kin notification policy to NBC News in response to a public records request.
At the time of the announcement, Chief Wade did not mention the Dexter Wade case but suggested that the department had been out of step with standard practice.
“You would think that we would have a death notification policy, but we do not,” Chief Wade said at a news briefing with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Yes, it’s pretty damn egregious that Jackson didn’t already have a common sense notification policy that would ensure no family would ever spend 172 days looking for their missing relative only to find out they were dead and buried less than one month after the death occurred.
It’s also worth mentioning that Bettersten had to pay the coroner’s office a $250 fee to claim Dexter’s body, and it took her several more weeks to find out where he was buried. She had to make an appointment in early October in order to finally visit where her son was laid to rest. So, apparently, there are quite a few related policies in Jackson that are desperately in need of a refresher.
In fact, it’s not just Jackson that is lagging behind reality when it comes to policies regarding the burial of family members. Mississippi law, in general, requires coroners to “make reasonable efforts” to notify the family of someone who has died, but if the deceased person’s body goes unclaimed for more than five days, county authorities can bury it.
For a state where legal authorities took five months to notify any of Dexter’s family members about the father of two’s death, five days is far too narrow a window to allow before giving non-familial authorities the greenlight to bury bodies anywhere they want. These are people, not checkmarks on an inventory list.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning is that Dexter’s family is not the only Black family that Jackson authorities have done this to.
More from NBC:
In another case, authorities failed to tell the family of Marrio Moore, 40, that he’d been killed in February. His relatives eventually found out about the death after reading an Oct. 9 local news article that revealed Jackson police had failed to notify the public about dozens of homicides this year. By then, Moore had also been buried in a pauper’s grave.
These families have suffered injustices no one should suffer, especially when they’re already grieving their deceased loved ones. It isn’t just negligent, it’s inhumane, and there are no justifiable excuses for it.