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

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

In an interview with NBC News, Smith County Sheriff Joel Houston defended his initial determination, saying no evidence at the time pointed to a homicide. But he said his department is still waiting on search warrants to rule more definitively.

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 his attorney, Ben Crump, criticized authorities for obstructing 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 is nothing that cover».

Rasheem Carter.Courtesy Tiffany Carter

Carter was reported missing on October 2, after his mother said he had sought help from the police and called her desperately to say he was being chased by white men in three trucks. That was the last day Carter’s family heard from him.

On November 2, authorities said they found her 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 occurred» even though the case was under investigation.

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

“This was a nefarious act. It was an evil act,» Crump said. «Someone murdered Rasheem Carter, and we can’t let them get away with it.»

The sheriff said Tuesday that his department initially said no crime was suspected to ease public concern after finding no preliminary evidence that Carter had been persecuted.

“I was just letting the local or general public know that no one else is believed to be involved at this time,” he said. «It seems to have caused an unnecessary headache, but we only have what the evidence tells us. At the time, the evidence was not suggestive.»

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

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

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

“He said, ‘I’ve got these men trying to kill me,’” Carter’s mother recalled 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 interviewed «everyone involved» in Carter’s last job, including four or five people Carter had mentioned to his mother as possible threats.

Houston said police «discarded» them after determining through phone records and GPS coordinates that their devices were nearly 100 miles away from Taylorsville at another workplace when Carter was last seen alive.

The sheriff said Carter’s colleagues and supervisor mentioned in their interviews that Carter «had not been himself» for about a week before he went missing.

“They said that his whole demeanor had changed. They weren’t sure what was going on,” Houston said. «They just said that he was more reserved to himself. He usually joked around, and in the last week or so they couldn’t do that.»

Houston said Carter had «a couple of verbal altercations» with at least one co-worker. But the sheriff would not say what the disagreement was about or whether the altercation caused Carter’s change in behavior.

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

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

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

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

«It’s a last-ditch deal to determine 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 review, reduce and resubmit his request multiple times, including most recently last week.

Houston said she welcomes the Justice Department’s involvement and wants justice for the Carter family «as much as the family.»

The Carters disagree.

Three family members said they were told by authorities that wild animals might have torn into her body.

“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 dropped dead and the animals were feeding on him.»

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

«I only know what my son told me,» he said Tuesday. «I don’t believe anything they say. It’s just lies after lies.»

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