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.
Cellmate Is Suspect in Death of Choctaw Man, Police Say; Choctaw Issue Statement
by Simon Moya-Smith, Indian Country Today, July 31, 2015
Authorities in Philadelphia, Mississippi, have named a suspect in the suspicious death of Native American activist and medicine man Rexdale Henry.
Justyn Schlegel, 34, was in the Neshoba County Jail cell with Henry when police found him dead, Sheriff Tommy Waddell said, according to WAPT News. Schlegel is now being charged with Henry’s murder.
Police arrested Henry on July 9 for failing to pay a minor traffic citation. According to reports, Henry was last seen alive at 9:30 a.m. on July 14, but by 10 a.m. he was deceased.
Henry was a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and was recently a candidate for tribal council. The tribe said in a statement released Friday that they are mourning the loss of Henry and are working with authorities to reveal what occurred leading up to his death.
“I, along with the entire tribal community, am saddened by the loss of Mr. Henry. I am committed to working with authorities to see justice served in this case,” Tribal Chief Phyliss Anderson said in a statement. “Please continue to keep the Henry family in your thoughts and prayers.”
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is reportedly looking into the crime. Anonymous donors paid to have Henry’s body flown to Florida for an independent autopsy.
The suspicious death of Henry is the latest in several cases like his that have recently sparked national attention. On July 13 – one day before Henry’s death – Sandra Bland, an African American woman, was found hanging in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell. Medical examiners ruled her death a suicide, but Bland’s family argued that she would not have killed herself given all she had to live for.
Less than a week before Bland’s death, a Lakota mother of two, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, was found unconscious on July 6 in a jail cell in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Circle Bear was later taken to a hospital where she died.
Witnesses said Circle Bear was suffering excruciating pain and heard her pleas for help. The jailers allegedly told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking.”