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After backlash, sheriff says he hasn’t ruled out foul play in Rasheem Carter’s death


A Mississippi sheriff said on Tuesday he had not ruled out the possibility of a murder in Rasheem Carter’s case, months after initially saying there was ‘no reason’ to suspect foul play in the death of the black man.

Carter, 25, was found dead last fall after warning his mother that he was being chased by white men hurling racial slurs.

In an interview with NBC News, Smith County Sheriff Joel Houston defended his early decision, saying there was no evidence at the time to point to a homicide. But he said his department is still awaiting search warrants to rule more definitively.

For the first time, the sheriff revealed key aspects of the investigation, including the department’s process for excluding potential suspects.

The interview came a day after Carter’s relatives and their lawyer Ben Crump criticized authorities for blocking them for more than four months and accused police of covering up what they believe was a brutal hate crime.

“Nothing gets swept under the rug,” Houston said Tuesday. “There is nothing to hide.”

Rasheem Carter
Rasheem Carter.Courtesy of Tiffany Carter

Carter was reported missing on October 2, after his mother said he sought police assistance and frantically called to tell her white men in three trucks were chasing him. It was the last day Carter’s family had heard of him.

On Nov. 2, authorities said they found his remains in a wooded area south of Taylorsville, Mississippi. In a statement on Facebook a day later, the Smith County Sheriff’s Department said it had “no reason to believe foul play was involved”, although the matter is under investigation. ‘investigation.

Carter’s relatives and the family’s attorney were appalled by the sheriff’s quick decision and urged the Justice Department to resume the investigation as a civil rights matter at a Monday news conference.

“It was an evil act. It was an evil act,” Crump said. “Someone murdered Rasheem Carter, and we can’t let them get away with this.”

The sheriff said Tuesday his department initially said no foul play was suspected to allay public concerns after finding no early evidence that Carter had been prosecuted.

“It was just a matter of letting the local or general public know that right now no one else would be involved,” he said. “It seems to have caused unnecessary headaches, but we only have what the evidence tells us. At the time, the evidence didn’t suggest anything.”

Carter, a welder from Fayette, Mississippi, was in Taylorsville, about 100 miles from his home, working on a short-term contract. His mother, Tiffany Carter, said he was saving money to reopen her seafood restaurant, which closed during the pandemic and is named after her 7-year-old daughter, Cali.

“That was his goal,” she said. “That’s why he went back to work.”

But while on the job site in October, Carter had a disagreement with at least one co-worker and fled, fearing for his life, his mother said.

“He said, ‘I had these men trying to kill me,'” Carter’s mother recalled.

She advised Carter to go to the nearest police station for help, but eventually lost contact with him.

On Tuesday, the sheriff said his department interviewed “everyone involved” in Carter’s last job, including four to five people Carter had mentioned to his mother as possible threats.

Houston said police ‘excluded’ them after determining, through phone records and GPS coordinates, that their devices were nearly 100 miles from Taylorsville at another job site when Carter was last seen alive. .

The sheriff said Carter’s co-workers and supervisor had mentioned in their interviews that Carter “wasn’t himself” for about a week before he disappeared.

“They said his whole demeanor had changed. They weren’t sure what was going on,” Houston said. “They just said he was more alone. He was usually joking, and last week they couldn’t do that.”

Houston said Carter had “a few verbal altercations” with at least one co-worker. But the sheriff didn’t say what the disagreement was about or whether the altercation prompted Carter to change his behavior.

Carter was last seen captured on a private landowner’s game camera in the woods after 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2, Houston said, adding he was the only person spotted in the footage.

The sheriff said the owner passed the image on to police when he discovered it in mid-October. Houston said it took about two weeks to search several hundred acres, using cadaver dogs.

In addition to Carter’s scattered remains, authorities found cash, bank cards, a driver’s license, a vape and a phone charger inside his blue jeans, although they did not have never got his phone back.

The Sheriff’s Department submitted a search warrant to Google to determine if any devices rang in the area where Carter’s remains were found at the time of her disappearance.

“It’s a last minute deal to figure out if someone else was with him or not,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to use this tool.”

However, the process has been ongoing since mid-November, Houston said, and the department has had to revise, refine and resubmit its request several times, including last week.

Houston said he welcomes the Justice Department’s involvement and wants justice for Carter’s family “just as much as the family does.”

The Carters disagree.

Three family members said authorities told them wild animals may have torn his body to pieces.

“He was in so many different rooms,” said Yokena Anderson, a cousin of Carter’s mother. “They wanted to tell us that he had been there and he was dead and the animals were feeding on him.”

Carter’s mother said her son was lucid about the threats he faced in their last phone calls and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and had no history of illness mental.

“I just know what my son told me,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t believe anything they say. It’s lies after lies.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.