‘I was calling and wondering where he was’: Mother says JPD didn’t notify her for months about missing son’s death

Published: Oct. 25, 2023 at 7:43 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - For 172 days, Bettersten Wade left no stone unturned in searching for her 37-year-old son, Dexter.

She asked neighbors, searched abandoned houses, called detectives, and posted messages on social media begging him to come home.

Dexter would never see those messages.

He was killed on the night of March 5, after being struck by an off-duty police officer driving along I-55 South.

Wade questions why it took so long for the Jackson Police Department to tell her about her son’s death.

She found out in late August, months after she filed her initial missing person’s report.

She also questions what happened to the officer involved.

“An officer comes to tell me he killed somebody on the freeway, and I’m just going to sign off on it?” she asked. “I don’t have [any] information on what happened, what you did or nothing.”

“Every job I worked at, if I [had] an incident on a job, I had to explain why.”

Bettersten Wade Jackson Mississippi
Bettersten Wade Jackson Mississippi(Ashleigh Coleman | Ashleigh Coleman for NBC News)

Wade says she filed her missing person’s report on March 14, days after the Hinds County Coroner’s Office was able to officially identify Dexter’s remains.

“When police stop you, the first thing they do is go run your name,” she said. “They tell you your address, everywhere you lived, everything.”

“Why didn’t they run his name [or] take his handprints to know who he [was]?”

Wade previously filed a wrongful death suit against JPD in connection with the death of another family member, her brother George Robinson. That suit is still pending in Hinds County Circuit Court. In July, Judge Debra Gibbs recused herself.

Meanwhile, criminal charges against two of the officers involved in Robinson’s death were dismissed. Another officer, Anthony Fox, was sentenced to five years in prison in August 2022 after being found guilty of culpable negligence manslaughter.

Several agencies, including the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Clinton Police Department, and JPD, say Fox’s conviction should be reversed.

As for Dexter, he had no identification at the time he was hit but did have a prescription drug bottle with his name on it.

According to an NBC News investigation, an investigator with the coroner was able to officially confirm Dexter’s identity and determine his next of kin by March 8.

A memorial near the spot where Dexter Wade was killed along I-55 South.
A memorial near the spot where Dexter Wade was killed along I-55 South.(WLBT)

For her part, Wade says coroner’s office officials told her they knew who Dexter was on the night his body was brought in.

“All the time, I was calling and wondering where he was. He was down in the morgue, had a name on him,” she said. “I know they just couldn’t miss that.”

Prescription bottle aside, she believes that because Dexter was a convicted felon, his fingerprints should have been on file.

Dexter did multiple stints behind bars, getting out of prison the last time back in 2017. After that, Wade said she noticed a change in her son, who was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“When he got on his medication, he stopped, like, going places and doing things,” she said. “He was basically at home all the time... selling little knickknacks... selling little freeze cups and little potato chips...”

“And then he would give kids stuff. He would give homeless people stuff. I would be on him, saying, ‘You[’re] giving all my food away,” she continued. “He was really a kind-hearted person.”

Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade declined to comment for this story, referring all questions to Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne.

In a statement, Payne said officers working missing person cases were unaware the March 5 victim was Dexter and that the lead detective continued to investigate Wade’s case until he retired.

Payne said a second officer took up the case after that officer retired, and the investigation eventually led back to the coroner’s office.

“Through collaborative efforts, they were able to close the missing person’s case, by identifying Dexter Wade as the pedestrian who was killed,” she said. “While this is a very tragic and unfortunate accident, our investigation found no malicious intent by any Jackson police staff.”

Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart was unavailable for comment.

Wade now hopes to give her son a proper burial. She recently visited the county’s paupers’ burial ground, where NBC News says she was able to see her son’s grave for the first time.

She recently paid $250 to claim her son’s body, which is currently resting under grave marker No. 672.

Dexter Wade is buried under grave marker No. 672 at the Hinds County Paupers' Burial Ground...
Dexter Wade is buried under grave marker No. 672 at the Hinds County Paupers' Burial Ground near the Penal Farm.(WLBT)

“To put your child and to bury him like that, and they knew that one of their officers had hit him,” she said. “I could have understood if somebody shot him on the street... It’s just so much.”

Even if she is able to relocate her son, Wade says she’ll never have the closure she and her son deserve.

“No matter what they tell me, do you think I’m going to believe them? Right now, if they come up today and give me an explanation, do you think I’m going to believe them?” she asked. “The way they treated me, do they deserve for me to believe them?”

“All of this could have been avoided. None of this had to happen.”

WLBT Chief Investigative Reporter C.J. LeMaster contributed to this report.

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