DOJ Takes Action After Coroner Secretly Buries Men Without Informing Families

( – Dexter Wade, 37, died in March 2023 in Hinds County, Mississippi. Authorities never notified his mother and buried him in a pauper’s grave. The Department of Justice is now stepping in to help the county improve its death notification system.

On April 4, the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs issued a press release announcing its intent to provide technical assistance to Hinds County. The federal agency is working with the Hinds County Coroner’s Office and Jackson Police Department to revamp their “policies and procedures related to next-of-kin death notifications.” Specifically, the DOJ is providing assistance based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and other factors.

According to the DOJ, some reports indicated there’s a belief that race and other factors played a part in the process of the county. For example, Wade was a black man. He died after a law enforcement officer hit and killed him while he tried to cross an interstate. Wade’s mom, Bettersten Wade, reported him missing the night of the accident. Police reportedly knew who Wade and his mom were, but still didn’t contact her.

Instead, Wade’s body went unclaimed in the Hinds County Morgue. Then, they buried him in a pauper’s grave at the Hinds County penal farm. His mother didn’t find out he died until August and didn’t find his grave until October.

NBC News reported on Wade’s story last year. Reporters also found six other cases of people being buried in the pauper’s field while their families looked for them. In two of the cases, NBC notified the families of their loved one’s death.

Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said families deserve to be able to make decisions about how to bury their loved ones. She went on to say the department wants to make sure officials deliver death notifications in “a timely and trauma-informed way that complies with civil rights law.”

Bettersten Wade said she feels better knowing the DOJ was stepping in and acknowledging that what happened was wrong.

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