Mississippi capital to revamp how it notifies next of kin about deaths with Justice Department help

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — After men near Mississippi’s capital were buried in a pauper’s cemetery without their relatives’ knowledge, the U.S. Justice Department will help the city’s police revamp policies for performing next-of-kin death notifications.

The intervention follows the discovery that seven men were buried in unmarked graves without their families’ knowledge. At least three of those men were Black. In Jackson, 80% of the population is Black. Federal officials are stepping in to ensure the notification procedures employed by the Jackson Police Department and Hinds County Coroner’s Office comply with civil rights laws, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced Thursday.

“Families want and deserve transparency and the opportunity to make decisions about their loved ones’ burials,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the division. “Through technical assistance, we aim to ensure that officials are able to deliver death notifications and make decisions regarding burials in a timely and trauma-informed way that complies with federal civil rights law.”

The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi will examine the Jackson Police Department’s policies on death notifications and provide recommendations for training and improvements. The federal agencies will also recommend practices for locating next-of-kin to the Hinds County Coroner’s Office.

Seven families learned of a loved one’s death from news reports instead of from officials in Hinds County, Mississippi, according to NBCNews.com. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents some of the families, has called for a federal investigation into the botched burials.

Scrutiny of burials near the Hinds County Penal Farm in Raymond, Mississippi, accelerated after the August discovery of Dexter Wade’s body. Wade, 37, died on March 5, 2023, after an off-duty Jackson Police Department officer struck him with a department SUV while Wade was walking across Interstate 55. His mother said it was late August before she learned her son had been killed and buried.

Wade’s body was exhumed on Nov. 13, and an independent autopsy was conducted. A wallet found in the jeans Wade was buried in contained his state identification card with his home address, credit card and health insurance card, Crump said. On Nov. 20, he was given a proper funeral, attended by more than 200 people, including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In its Thursday announcement, the Civil Rights Division said the assistance does not indicate a finding of wrongdoing by the Jackson Police Department or the Hinds County Coroner’s Office. In a statement following the federal government’s announcement, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said local agencies welcomed federal help.


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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