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A mother reported her son missing in March. Police kept the truth from her for months.

On March 5, Bettersten, a retired Nissan line technician who worked part-time as a home health aide, returned home and found one of her windows broken. She and Dexter argued about it, and around 7:30 p.m. he left with a friend, she said.

Days passed without a word. On March 14, Bettersten called the Jackson Police Department to report him missing. 

The decision to call the police was difficult for Bettersten. She did not trust them. In 2019, her 62-year-old brother died after a Jackson officer slammed him to the ground. The officer was convicted of manslaughter but is appealing. 

Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing Jackson officers of excessive force and attempting to cover up their actions, and accusing the city of failing to properly train and supervise the officers. The city has denied the claims and said it isn’t liable for what happened. The officers’ lawyer said they acted responsibly and lawfully. A federal judge dismissed some of Bettersten’s claims; others remain pending in state court. 

Bettersten said her mother advised her not to call the police about Dexter.

“My mama told me, ‘They’re not going to do anything,’” Bettersten recalled. “But I had to do something to find Dexter, and I thought that was the best way.” 

An investigator came to Bettersten’s house and took a statement, she said. She emailed the investigator a picture of Dexter. He left a card with a case number on it. Two days later, she emailed a different investigator another photo of her son. The original investigator filed an incident report that misspelled Dexter’s name as "Dester."

Bettersten said she kept in regular touch with police, asking for updates and requesting that they put his picture on TV. She did her own search, checking out abandoned homes and driving around her neighborhood asking if anyone had seen him (she never found the friend who left home with him). 

Dexter’s teen daughters and their mother grew frantic, calling Bettersten for news. “The girls would ask, ‘Did you hear from my daddy?’” Thomas said. “We just kept praying he was all right.”

Carey Banks, a close friend of Bettersten’s, accompanied her on searches of the neighborhood and watched as stress and desperation wore on her.

“She called someone every week and asked about her child,” Banks said. “She couldn’t get it off her mind. She was crazy about that boy.”

Each time she called, police told her they had no information, Bettersten said.

It turned out that the Jackson Police Department had the answers all along. 

Image: Flowers near the highway road where Dexter was killed.
A memorial beside Interstate 55.Ashleigh Coleman for NBC News

The department did not respond to detailed questions and has not commented on or explained how it handled Dexter’s death. This account has been pieced together with interviews with his family and a coroner’s investigator, along with court records and documents provided in response to public records requests: a crash report, incident reports and coroner’s office records. Bettersten also shared personal notes, emails, Dexter’s death certificate, a coroner’s report and case information cards provided to her by police. 

Those materials show that just before 8 p.m. on March 5, Dexter was walking across Interstate 55, a six-lane highway, when a Jackson police SUV driven by an off-duty corporal struck him in the southbound lanes. 

The corporal, who alerted police to the collision, was not injured. He was not suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and was not given field sobriety tests. Nor was he cited for any traffic violations. The death was ruled accidental.

Dexter suffered severe injuries, including to his head. A toxicology report later noted that Dexter had PCP and methamphetamine in his system. 

An investigator from the Hinds County coroner’s office responded to the scene. He did not find identification on Dexter while examining him but found a bottle of prescription medication in his pocket with his name on it. 

Three days later, on March 8, the investigator, LaGrand Elliott, contacted the medical facility that had provided the prescription and received Bettersten’s name as Dexter’s next of kin, according to Elliott’s case notes. Elliott said he called the number listed for Bettersten in the facility’s records and left a voicemail but got no response. Bettersten confirmed that the number Elliott said he called was correct, but she doesn’t remember receiving a call from him, and was not able to access her Boost Mobile phone records to check. 

Elliott confirmed Dexter’s identification on March 9, when the state crime lab said his fingerprints matched those it had on file for him, according to his notes. Elliott said in an interview that he passed what he’d found — a phone number and an address — to the Jackson Police Department’s accident investigation squad so they could notify Bettersten of Dexter’s death.

“Once we get that information I turn it over to police because it is their jurisdiction so that they can do the proper death notification,” Elliott said.

Bettersten, meanwhile, turned to Facebook, where she posted pictures of Dexter with her phone number, pleading for him or anyone who saw him to call.

On March 15, the day after Bettersten reported Dexter missing, Elliott followed up with Jackson police for updates. “No kin has been located as of yet,” he wrote in his notes. 

Elliott made another follow-up call on March 30, and was told there was nothing new. 

The following day, the coroner’s office asked the Hinds County Board of Supervisors for approval to bury Dexter’s remains in a pauper’s field at the Hinds County penal farm.

As that request was being filed, Bettersten posted another photo of Dexter on Facebook.

“Have anyone saw my son please please call his mother.”