A private autopsy is under way for Rexdale W. Henry, a 53-year-old man found dead inside the Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Miss., on July 14.
According to WTOK, detention officers found Henry’s body around 10 a.m.; he was last seen alive 30 minutes earlier. The state crime lab in Jackson conducted an autopsy and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.
Funeral services for Henry took place July 19 in Bogue Chitto. A few days later, his body was flown to Florida for an independent autopsy paid for by anonymous donors.
Henry, a member of the Choctaw tribe and a lifelong community activist, coached stickball and had been a candidate for the Choctaw Tribal Council from Bogue Chitto the week before his arrest on July 9 for failure to pay a fine.
Helping with the family’s independent probe are civil-rights activists John Steele, a close friend of Henry’s, and Diane Nash, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as Syracuse University law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson of the school’s Cold Case Justice Initiative.
“At a time when the nation is focused on the terrible circumstances of the brutal death of Sandra Bland, it is critical to expose the many ways in which Black Americans, Native Americans and other minorities are being arrested for minor charges and end up dead in jail cells,” McDonald said in a statement.
Henry’s arrest came one day after 39-year-old Jonathan Sanders died after a police stop in nearby Clarke County, which MBI is also investigating. Henry’s death occurred one day after Bland, an African American woman, was found hanging in Texas’ Waller County Jail. Authorities ruled Bland’s death a suicide. Another Mississippi man, Troy Goode, died while in police custody in Southaven on July 18; Goode was white.
Information from a SNCC email listserv states of Henry: “His family wants to know what or who caused their healthy, fifty-three year old loved one to die in that cell.”
Activists also point to the death of Michael Deangelo McDougle, also in the Neshoba County Jail, less than a year ago, in November 2014, and invoke the Mississippi Burning murders that took place during Freedom Summer of 1964.
On June 21 of that year, local authorities took three civil-rights activists—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner—to the Neshoba County Jail (it has since been moved) on minor charges before the trio disappeared; the activists’ bodies were discovered in an earthen dam 44 days after they went missing.
John Steele was a child when Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner visited Steele’s family home, shortly before their disappearance.
“Mr. Henry was a dedicated family man and the medicine man for his Choctaw community of Bogue Chitto,” Steele said through a statement.
Supporters say the results of the independent autopsy will be made public when it is complete.