The family of a Black man is calling for a federal investigation into his death after local authorities in Mississippi said they did not suspect foul play after the man’s body was found dismembered. Police say his wounds may have been caused by an animal.
His remains were found in the woods roughly 20 miles away outside of Taylorsville, Miss., on Nov. 2, after he had been missing for about a month.
The Smith County, Miss., Sheriff’s Office said the next day that it had “no reason to believe foul play was involved” in Carter’s killing and that the investigation is ongoing.
Carter’s family and civil rights attorney Ben Crump criticized authorities Monday over the investigation in what Crump said appears to be a hate crime. Crump noted Carter’s autopsy, completed Feb. 2, found that his head was severed from his body and other body parts were in different locations.
He called Carter’s death “a nefarious act, an evil act” and urged the Justice Department to take over the investigation as a civil rights case.
“Somebody murdered Rasheem Carter, and we cannot let them get away with this,” Crump said at a news conference. “There is nothing natural about this. It screams out for justice. What we have is a Mississippi lynching.”
Smith County Sheriff Joel Houston told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he welcomed the Justice Department to get involved in the investigation, saying, “There is nothing to be swept under the rug or hidden in that nature.” Houston, whose department has overseen the investigation into Carter’s death, told the Vicksburg Daily in November that Carter did not indicate to authorities that he was in danger when he arrived at the Taylorsville Police Department after he called his mother. Houston told The Post that “there’s no evidence to substantiate any” of Carter’s family’s claims that he was murdered.
“There’s no indication that someone killed him,” Houston said. “The evidence we do have does coincide with what animals would do to a body.”
Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Bailey Martin told The Post that the agency is assisting in the case but that she could not comment further on the investigation. An FBI spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An agency spokesperson told NBC News that the agency is not involved in the case.
Carlos Moore, an attorney representing Carter’s family, told The Post that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division confirmed to him that the case is now on its radar.
“This is the most heinous crime in Mississippi in my lifetime,” Moore said.
While it remains unclear whether Carter’s death was a hate crime, his killing has opened old wounds regarding racially motivated deaths in Mississippi. From 1877 to 1950, more than 4,000 Black men, women and children were lynched in cities and towns across the country, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in Montgomery, Ala. During that period, Mississippi recorded 581, the highest number of lynchings recorded by a state.
Between 2000 and August 2021, there were at least eight suspected lynchings of Black men and teenagers in Mississippi, The Post reported.
A native of Fayette, Miss., Carter was working a short-term contracting gig as a welder almost 100 miles away in Taylorsville to save money to reopen his seafood restaurant that had closed during the pandemic, his family said Monday. The seafood restaurant was named after Cali, his 7-year-old daughter, according to the family. But his work there did not last long after he got into an argument with the business owner at the site and fled in his fear of his life, his mother told reporters.
On Oct. 1, Tiffany Carter received a text message from her son saying that he and a business owner, whom she did not name, were “not seeing eye to eye” and that the business owner “would be responsible” if anything happened to her son.
“I’m too smart, Mama,” Carter wrote to his mother, she said. “He’s got these guys who want to kill me.”
He also called her to let her know that he had been chased, she said at the news conference.
“My son told me there were three truckloads of White men after him, trying to kill him,” she said. Marnee Tompkins, Rasheem Carter’s aunt, told the Jackson Advocate that her nephew called in “a panic mode.”
After Tiffany Carter advised her son to go to police, she did not hear from, she said. His mother reported him missing to the Laurel Police Department on Oct. 2.
Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox told The Post that family members who filed the missing persons report indicated that Rasheem Carter was staying at a hotel in Laurel as part of his work.
“We put it out that he was last seen at the hotel, but it was fairly obvious that he was last seen in Taylorsville,” Cox said, adding that surveillance footage verified that Carter was at a store in the town.
When Carter arrived at the Taylorsville Police Department, he did not indicate that he was in danger, the Smith County sheriff told local media last year.
“They offered him a phone call, and he said he had a phone and they even offered him a charger but the charger that was available didn’t fit his phone, so he was just trying to find a ride back to Laurel when he came in contact with police,” Houston said, according to the Vicksburg Daily.
A spokesperson with the Taylorsville Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Carter’s family led their own search parties for about a month in hope of finding him alive. On Nov. 2, Carter’s decomposing body was found in a wooded area south of Taylorsville. The State Crime Lab gave Carter’s family his head and spinal cord in a box as part of the autopsy findings, Crump said Monday.
“They recently found remains they believe are also Rasheem Carter at another part of where he went missing,” the civil rights attorney said.
There is no timetable for the sheriff’s office’s investigation, Houston said, but he emphasized that authorities were working hard on the case.
“If someone is believed to be involved [in Carter’s death], we want justice as well,” he told The Post.
Tiffany Carter, wearing a T-shirt reading, “In Remembrance of Rasheem Carter,” vowed that the family would not rest until they got answers about who killed her son.
“They thought this was going to be a child no one cared anything about,” she said at the news conference. “They’re clearly mistaken. Because he was somebody.”
Rasheem Carter was remembered by family members and friends as a loving father who worked hard to provide for his young daughter. Justiss White, Cali’s mother, recalled how Carter called every day to talk to his daughter and how “they stayed on the phone for hours like teenagers.”
“Every day, she brings him up,” White said.
DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this report.