Mississippi police were at odds as they searched for missing man, widow says

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In the weeks after Sudanese Civil War refugee Dau Mabil vanished without a trace in Mississippi, officers from two police agencies blamed each other for the stalled investigation, his widow told The Associated Press.

Fishermen, not police, spotted Mabil’s body floating in a river about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of where he went missing in Jackson on March 25. But his relatives still know little about what happened to him before his body was found April 13, his widow, Karissa Bowley, said this week. And a court has said it couldn’t consider rules for an independent autopsy that may shed more light on what happened to Mabil until April 30.

Relatives and volunteers spent weeks looking for Mabil, who disappeared during a daytime walk near his home. As they searched remote areas and raised awareness, investigators from the state-run Capitol Police and the city-run Jackson Police Department blamed each other for complicating the effort, Bowley said.

“Both of them would go out of their way to tell me how the other one was either doing a bad job or getting in their way,” Bowley said. “A complete unwillingness on both sides to put aside whatever political differences or whatever larger systemic issues and histories for the sake of this case.”

The Capitol Police is controlled by Republican officials, while the Jackson Police Department is controlled by Democratic officials. The Republican-controlled state Legislature has expanded the department’s patrol area in recent years and created a special court in Jackson, drawing lawsuits and fierce Democratic opposition.

Both police agencies came together for Operation Unified, a new crime-curbing initiative in a city with nation-leading homicide statistics. But the departments appeared disconnected in the Mabil case, according to his family members.

Jackson police officers searched an area using drones without telling Capitol Police, who said that was “contrary to them working together,” Bowley said. She didn’t understand why the departments weren’t helping each other, she said.

Jackson and Capitol police departments have been “actively working on this case,” said the state agency’s spokesperson, Bailey Martin. She declined to comment further, citing an open investigation. A Jackson Police Department spokesperson did not respond to a list of questions.

At an April 18 news conference, Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade said he met with the Capitol Police.

“They showed a willingness to work with us,” Wade said. “I hope that that still stands today.”

The discovery of Mabil’s body set off a legal dispute between Bowley and her brother-in-law, Bul Mabil.

A judge granted Bul Mabil’s emergency request to ensure that an independent medical examiner autopsied Dau Mabil’s body before releasing the remains to Bowley and her family.

In a subsequent court filing, Bowley’s attorney said her client “embraces” the order for an additional autopsy by a qualified examiner but only after law enforcement finishes investigating, her attorney said in court documents. The court said it couldn’t consider Bowley’s request until April 30.

Bul Mabil said he was surprised not to have received a call from Bowley the day his brother went missing, but Bowley said she called him the next day after an hours-long frantic search on March 25.

Before Dau Mabil went missing, Bowley said she and her husband spent part of their morning calling his mother, who lives in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. The United Nations-operated camp was established in 1992 following the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”

The Mabils were among the thousands of young refugees brought to the U.S. during their country’s bloody civil war. They both built new lives in the United States. Dau Mabil and Bowley grew close while working together at a Jackson restaurant. She said his “gentle and graceful presence” drew her close.

“I had been missing Dao since before I knew he was missing,” she said.

___ 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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