RAYMOND, Miss. — Monday was supposed to be the day Bettersten Wade would finally get a measure of peace.
Instead, she suffered another indignity.
Wade and her lawyers had arranged with Hinds County officials to exhume the remains of her son, Dexter Wade, 37, who’d been struck and killed by a Jackson police officer and buried in a pauper’s field at the county penal farm without her knowing. They agreed on 11:30 a.m. Monday. Her lawyers said they spoke to a county attorney Sunday to confirm.
But when Bettersten Wade arrived at the penal farm at the appointed time, dressed in black, her son’s remains had already been dug up, put in a body bag and placed in the back of a Chevy Suburban. County officials said a public works crew had turned up earlier in the morning and removed the remains before anyone else arrived.
She’d been cut out of the process again.
“It makes me feel like I don’t exist,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that I’m his mother. It didn’t matter to them. They act like that’s their child and they’re really the one who decides what happens to him. I didn’t have any rights or say.”
To her, the exhumation was another insult in an ordeal that began March 5, when she last saw her son leave their home in Jackson. She reported him missing to Jackson police nine days later. Missing persons investigators told her for months that they didn’t know where he was.
Then, in late August, officers told her that he’d been struck by a Jackson police cruiser while he was crossing a six-lane highway less than an hour after he’d left home. The Hinds County coroner’s office told her his body had been buried in a pauper’s field after it went unclaimed for months. Wade paid $250 to obtain the rights to his body and began working on getting him a proper funeral.
The case sparked public outrage when NBC News reported about it last month. Civil rights lawyers Ben Crump and Dennis Sweet took on her case, helping her arrange for the exhumation, an independent autopsy and a funeral.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has expressed regret about the city’s handling of Dexter Wade’s death, blaming a miscommunication and saying there was no malicious intent. The Jackson Police Department hasn’t responded to questions about the case.
Monday’s exhumation required approval from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, which it granted Nov. 6. The next day, the board’s attorney, Tony Gaylor, sent a letter to Sweet saying the exhumation would take place at 11:30 a.m. Monday. “It is the procedure of the coroner to exhume the body from the burial site in the presence of representatives of the Hinds County Sheriff Department, Coroner’s office and the funeral home that will receive the body,” Gaylor wrote.
Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones, whose office runs the penal farm, said a crew from the Public Works Department, which is responsible for digging graves and maintaining the pauper’s field, showed up earlier in the morning and, with help from people detained in the county’s jail, exhumed the body.
“We just go by the orders that they give us,” Jones said. “So we don’t have anything to do with the decision-making as it relates to the pauper area at all.”