Last October, Rasheem Carter told Taylorsville, Mississippi police that he had been chased by truckloads of white men yelling racial slurs at him.
Days later, Carter was officially reported missing.
His remains were found a month later, just 1 mile south of the town. In a statement posted to Facebook at the time, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, where Taylorsville is located, said that there was “no reason to believe” that foul play was involved.
Months after Carter’s disappearance, the state Bureau of Investigation and local police still maintain that an investigation is ongoing, but have provided his family with scant information. His family thinks that Carter, a 25-year-old Black man, was murdered in cold blood and found decapitated—and that police inaction put Carter in danger and is now stalling his family’s quest for justice.
On Monday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump stood with Carter’s mother Tiffany outside of a federal court in Jackson and displayed photos from an independent autopsy, which he said showed that Carter’s head had been severed from his body and his spinal cord had been found unattached to the rest of his body.
“This was a nefarious act. This was an evil act,” Crump said. “Someone murdered Rasheem Carter. And we cannot let them get away with this.”
“What we have is a Mississippi lynching in 2022.”
Crump, who has represented the families of Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor in police brutality cases, faulted police for not acting to help Carter. Crump also demanded the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the circumstances surrounding Carter’s death. “When you look at these pictures, taken at the autopsy, it tells you there is nothing natural about this,” said Crump. “Because [police] failed to act, what we have is a Mississippi lynching in 2022,” Crump said. “We know there are clues to this murder mystery, and we need the highest levels of law enforcement to administer justice for Rasheem Carter.”
Carter’s family believes local police have not been fully up-front with them about the investigation and that it’s been mishandled. “They’re saying this is a transparent investigation,” Felica Kaho, Carter’s aunt, told VICE News. “No, it's not. We don't know anything.”
Rasheem Carter was born in October 1996 and was raised in Fayette, Mississippi, where he graduated from high school in 2015 where he played football and baseball. Carter later went on to study welding and cutting at a nearby community college.
Family and friends described Carter as outgoing, charitable, and entrepreneurial. In 2019, he opened a seafood business in the city of Fayette: Cali’s Express, which was named for his daughter. “The crawfish can wake a dead man up,” one Google review of the restaurant said.
“He was more than a son to me,” Tiffany Carter said during the press conference Monday. “He acted like my dad, he acted like my best friend, my brother, my uncle. He was just a man that wanted to do what he had to do.”
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His last known address was in the city of Vicksburg, according to a heavily-redacted Mississippi Department of Public Safety report obtained by VICE News. Carter had plans to expand his restaurant business there and nearby cities like Natchez, according to Kaho, but the business closed during the COVID-19 pandemic when food costs went up. His family said he wanted to reopen, so Carter, a millwright and welder, started working contracting jobs, sometimes far from his home, in order to save money.
“That is why he was back on the road traveling, because he wanted to reopen,” Kaho told VICE News. “He was young, but he had a good head on his shoulders.”
His family thinks that Carter, a 25-year-old Black man, was murdered in cold blood and found decapitated—and that police inaction put Carter in danger and is now stalling his family’s quest for justice.
In late September 2022, Carter traveled more than two hours east from Fayette to Taylorsville to work a contract job. He stayed at a Super 8 motel in the city of Laurel, about a half-hour drive southeast from Taylorsville.
But Carter soon ran into problems with coworkers, including a roommate who eventually told him he could no longer ride with him to and from work, according to Carter’s family. Before he disappeared, Carter texted his mother a concern: “Me and the owner of this company are not seeing eye to eye, Mama,” Rasheem Carter told his mother in a text that she read aloud during the press conference. “If anything happens to me, he’s responsible for it.”
Tiffany Carter did not name the company or the man her son allegedly told her would be responsible for his death, but she has turned the name and her text messages over to police, Crump said.
On the night of Saturday, Oct. 1, Carter texted his mom that he was being chased by men in trucks who were yelling racial slurs at him, though it’s unclear whether this was related to his problems at work.
His mother told him to go to the police. There, Carter reportedly also asked police officers at the station in Taylorsville for a ride back to Laurel. Both Carter’s family and Taylorsville police chief Gabe Horn have said that police denied his request because Laurel was out of their jurisdiction.
“That Saturday night, we are not aware of where he stayed in Taylorsville,” Kaho told VICE News. “We don't know if he stayed in the woods or you know, we have no idea…[the police] offered no help to him, literally.”
On Sunday morning, Iesha Green, a family friend, said she would drive out to Taylorsville to pick Rasheem up and bring him home, and Carter shared his location with his mother to pass along. When Green arrived, however, she could not find him at the gas station or anywhere else in town, she said.
When Green went to the Taylorsville police, she said that she was told that Carter had called the police station earlier that morning, and said “some men were trying to harm him really bad.” An officer later found Carter “hiding in the bushes behind a gas station” in Taylorsville, before bringing him back to the station, where he “paced around for about an hour on the phone,” Green recalled police telling her.
When Green arrived, however, she could not find him at the gas station or anywhere else in town.
Carter’s family says he was told he would not be able to stay at the police station while he waited for his ride, but Horn, the Taylorsville chief of police, gave a different story to a Mississippi television station.
“He told the officer that night that he and his roommates had a verbal disagreement and he felt threatened and that was it,” Horn told Jackson-based WDAM in December. “[Carter] did tell the officer that night that was up here that he had a ride coming and the officer advised him, ‘You’re more than welcome to stay (at the police department).’”
“He said, ‘No sir, I dropped a pin where I wanted to be picked up,’” Horn told WDAM.
Green bounced back and forth between Laurel and Taylorsville over the course of the day, before finally filing a missing person’s report in Laurel and going home, she told VICE News. Several days later, after Taylorsville police said they had still not been able to locate Rasheem, she said she came back to Taylorsville with Rasheem’s mother to continue the search.
Green said that they found a worker at a Jr. Food Mart store who recognized Carter as a man who, on the morning he disappeared, was offering people in the store up to $100 to drive him back to Laurel.
But Taylorsville police were less helpful, Green said. At one point, Green said, an officer told Tiffany Carter that she had “failed” her son by not picking him up herself.
“I don't want to blame [the police], but I feel like if they had acted quicker and took it seriously, then things would have been much better,” Green said of the police response. “We're blaming them because they didn't do what they were supposed to do as officers.”
In Nov. 2022, Rasheem’s remains were located outside of Taylorsville on private property. His remains were finally returned to his family in February.
Police have continued to indicate that they believe there is no evidence that foul play was involved in Carter’s death. On Monday, Crump said that early on in the investigation, police told Carter’s family that they believed he got lost, passed out, and was attacked by animals. “That was the first lie,” said Crump, who added that the family deserved answers.
“You have to let this family know what you are doing. You can't just say ‘We're investigating,’ and not give them any answers since [October],” said Crump. “This is a Mississippi lynching…There is nothing else you can call it but a modern-day legend.”
Monday’s press conference also included the local NAACP president in Fayette, as well as the Carter family’s co-counsel Carlos Moore, a previous president of the National Bar Association, which was founded for Black lawyers.
“It could be my family tomorrow. It could be any Black American in Mississippi,” Moore said. “There is a new surge of white supremacy, and none of us should feel safe until all of us feel safe.”
“We're calling on the Department of Justice to open an investigation as to what happened to Rasheem Carter,” Crump said at the conference. “It doesn't make any sense at all.”
Police agencies have largely refused to release records related to Carter’s death to VICE News, saying that the investigation is still ongoing and thus exempt from Mississippi public records laws.
Crump’s call for federal authorities to investigate marks the most significant escalation in the case in months, though the Smith County Sheriff’s Office previously stated in a Facebook post that the FBI assisted the investigation during its earliest stages. (Taylorsville is located in Smith County.)
Police agencies, including the Taylorsville P.D. and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, have largely refused to release records related to Carter’s death to VICE News, saying that the investigation is still ongoing and thus exempt from Mississippi public records laws. A Taylorsville Police Department employee told VICE News that the department wasn’t releasing any police reports or anything else during an “active investigation.”
Multiple messages left with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office last week went unanswered. And a public records request for the autopsy, police reports, and more information, made to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, returned only a heavily-redacted initial report from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, MBI’s parent agency, after the case was referred to them by local authorities.
The elected coroner of Smith County answered a call from VICE News Friday and, before Carter’s name was even mentioned, said that autopsy results would not be released during an “active investigation.” The coroner did not provide a timeline for when those results would be released. When asked what case he was referring to, the coroner replied: “I assume it’s the one everyone’s asking about. Rasheem Carter.”
Carter’s community is still demanding more. Two protests have been held in Taylorsville in Dec. 2022 and in February for Carter; during the most recent protest, which reportedly had multiple law enforcement agencies on the scene, a demonstrator wrote “Rasheem’s life mattered” on the street, according to Kaho and photos obtained by VICE News.
After the protest, Horn, the town’s chief of police, posted a picture on Facebook of a message written in chalk being power washed off. “Little clean up!!!” Horn posted with a handwaving emoji, according to a screenshot of the post obtained by VICE News.
“Was that really necessary?” Kaho told VICE News, referring to the post. “We're already a family who is distraught. We lost somebody.”