Jackson, Mississippi, adopts next-of-kin notification policy after people were buried without families knowing

Police in Jackson, Mississippi, have adopted a policy outlining how officers notify families when a loved one has died. These guidelines are common in American law enforcement, but Jackson did not have a policy until recently, after a local mother shared the story of her son getting run over by a police car and being buried in a pauper’s grave without her knowing.

Police Chief Joseph Wade announced the new policy on Nov. 13 following weeks of public outrage over the death of Dexter Wade, 37, whose mother searched for him for months before learning that he had already been buried.  (The two Wade families are not related). The department provided a copy of the new next-of-kin notification policy to NBC News in response to a public records request. 

At the time of the announcement, Chief Wade did not mention the Dexter Wade case but suggested that the department had been out of step with standard practice.

“You would think that we would have a death notification policy, but we do not,” Chief Wade said at a news briefing with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba

Chief Wade declined through a city spokesperson to comment further. The spokesperson, Melissa Faith Payne, said in a statement that the new policy was enacted to ensure that police contact next of kin in cases handled by the department. She did not elaborate.

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The Jackson Police Department and the Hinds County coroner’s office have been widely faulted for their failures to reach Dexter Wade’s family in the months after the father of two was struck and killed by an off-duty officer while crossing a six-lane highway on March 5. His mother, Bettersten Wade, reported him missing a few days later, but investigators did not tell her what happened to him until Aug. 24. By then, he’d already been buried in a pauper’s grave on the grounds of the Hinds County penal farm. 

In another case, authorities failed to tell the family of Marrio Moore, 40, that he’d been killed in February. His relatives eventually found out about the death after reading an Oct. 9 local news article that revealed Jackson police had failed to notify the public about dozens of homicides this year. By then, Moore had also been buried in a pauper’s grave. 

Image: Marquita & Mary Moore holds a photo of Mario Terrell Moore
Marquita Moore, left, and her mother, Mary Moore Glenn, found out about Marrio Moore’s death eight months after he was killed.Imani Khayyam for NBC News

Mississippi law requires coroners to “make reasonable efforts” to notify the family of someone who has died, and if their body goes unclaimed for more than five days, county authorities can bury it. The Hinds County coroner’s office, which took possession of Wade and Moore’s bodies after their deaths, has said it works closely with police on death notifications and relies on officers to perform them in cases in which people have been killed. 

In his Nov. 13 remarks, Chief Wade said that despite what state law says about the coroner’s responsibilities on death notifications, “we want to make sure that we are giving the best police service to our citizens.”

In both Dexter Wade and Marrio Moore’s deaths, the coroner’s office and the Jackson Police Department said they made efforts to contact next of kin, including via phone, but they didn’t reach anyone. In Wade’s case, Lumumba, Jackson’s mayor, has blamed a miscommunication.

Jackson’s new policy requires officers to make “every effort” to quickly locate and notify the next of kin of someone who has died in a case handled by the police department. It instructs officers to use “all available resources” to find a victim’s family. The document also says officers should make a notification in person at a family member’s home, and not by phone. The policy says officers should use “extreme tact” and “display a demeanor of understanding and sympathy and express a desire to assist.”

Policies on death https://berharaplahlagi.com notification are customary for modern, well-run police departments and coroner’s offices, experts say.

“It’s pretty standard stuff that departments have a policy,” said Thomas Tiderington, a former police chief in Plymouth Township, Michigan, and a former chief of detectives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who now consults for law enforcement agencies.

Not having a policy increases the risk of botched notifications, which can damage a department’s credibility, Tiderington said. “There’s a moral obligation besides the procedural obligation to let someone know their loved ones were killed or murdered or found deceased,” he said.

Numbered graves at the Hinds County penal farm.
Numbered graves at the Hinds County penal farm.Ashleigh Coleman for NBC News

Chris Burbank, a former police chief in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a consultant for the Center for Policing Equity, said it was “unheard of” for a police department to go without a death notification policy, because officers are commonly called upon to conduct notifications. “This is like a policy about wearing seat belts — everybody’s got them,” Burbank said. “If you don’t, you’ve got to ask the question, ‘What were you thinking?’”

Tiderington and Burbank both reviewed Jackson’s new notification policy and said it appeared to bring the city up to modern standards.

“The notification process is fairly representative of policies across the country,” Burbank said.

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