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

A Mississippi sheriff said Tuesday he has not ruled out homicide in the case of Rasheem Carter, months after initially saying there was “no reason” to suspect the black man’s death was foul play.

Carter, 25, was found dead last fall after he warned 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 determination, saying no evidence at the time pointed to homicide. But he said his department is still waiting for search warrants to make a more definitive decision.

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

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

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

Rashim Carter.Courtesy of Tiffany Carter

Carter was reported missing on Oct. 2 after his mother said he had called the police for help and called her frantically to say white men in three trucks were chasing him. This was the last day Carter’s family heard from 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 case was under investigation.

Carter’s loved ones and the family’s attorney were disappointed by the sheriff’s quick decision and asked the Justice Department to take over the investigation as a civil rights case during a news conference Monday.

“This was a despicable act. This was an evil act,” Crump said. “Someone murdered Rasheem Carter and we can’t let him get away with it.”

The sheriff said Tuesday that his department initially said foul play was not suspected to ease public concern after finding no early evidence that Carter had been hunted.

“It’s just been made known to the local or general public that at this time no one else is believed to be involved,” he said. “It seems to have caused an unnecessary headache, but we only have what the evidence tells us. At the time, the evidence didn’t point to anything.”

Carter, a welder from Fayette, Mississippi, was in Taylorsville, about 100 miles from home, working a short-term gig. His mother, Tiffany Carter, said she was saving up to reopen the seafood restaurant, which was closed during the pandemic and named after his 7-year-old daughter, Callie.

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

But while at the construction site in October, Carter had an argument with at least one co-worker and fled, fearing for his life, his mother said.

“He said, ‘I had these men try to kill me,'” Carter’s mother remembers him saying.

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

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

Houston said police “ruled them out” after determining through phone records and GPS coordinates that their devices were nearly 100 miles away from Taylorsville at another construction site when Carter was last seen alive.

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

“They said his behavior had changed. They weren’t sure what was going on,” Houston said. “They just said he kept more to himself. He was usually joking and in the last week they couldn’t do that.”

Houston said Carter had “some verbal altercations” with at least one co-worker. But the sheriff would not say what the argument was about or whether the altercation caused Carter’s behavior to change.

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

The sheriff said the property owner gave the picture to police when he learned about it in mid-October. Houston said it took about two weeks to search several hundred acres, using cadaver dogs.

Along with Carter’s scattered remains, authorities found some cash, bank cards, a driver’s license, a vape and a phone charger inside his blue jeans, though they never found his phone.

The sheriff’s department submitted a search warrant to Google to determine if any devices pinged the area where Carter’s remains were found around the time he went missing.

“It’s a last-ditch deal to determine whether someone else was with him or not,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to use this tool.”

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

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

The Carters disagree.

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

“He was in so many different pieces,” said Yokena Anderson, a cousin of Carter’s mother. “They wanted to tell us that he went there and fell dead and the animals fed him.”

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

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

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