Tracie Mayfield fell to the ground when she opened her son’s car and was hit with the smell of his cologne.
It had been six months since Yakebau “Ya Ya” Cortez Head, 31, was shot and killed in Lexington. The car had been taken into police custody to process potential evidence, and she got the car back in July.
“I broke down because all I could feel is my son,” Mayfield said.
She worries the Lexington Police Department isn’t conducting an adequate investigation into her son’s death.
Mayfield said neither the local investigator nor the chief has called her. Family members have an idea of who is responsible for her son’s death, but she said those people haven’t been arrested.
On top of that, life insurance coverage Mayfield had for her son was denied based on information the Lexington Police Department provided, implying her son played a role in his death.
All these circumstances together have led her to mistrust the local police department, Mayfield said.
“I want justice,” said Mayfield, who is from Lexington but lives in Kosciusko. “… I feel like I can get some closure, but there is nothing I can look forward to.”
In the early morning of Feb. 12, Head knocked on the bedroom window of his girlfriend, who was expecting him. As he stood outside, he was shot five times in the back, Mayfield said.
Family members who live in town went to the shooting scene and saw a man they recognized get into a car nearby that drove by. Mayfield said both of the people in the vehicle knew her son.
Chief Charles Henderson did not respond to requests for comment, including whether any suspects have been identified, charges have been filed or arrests have been made.
Mayfield said she has had better communication with a detective from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, who she said updated her on some of the evidence that had been processed. An agency spokesperson confirmed MBI is assisting Lexington police in the investigation of Head’s death, but declined to comment further.
Head was buried March 4 at Zion Cemetery in Lexington. Mayfield remembers over a hundred people who attended the funeral, which she said is a testament to Head’s impact in the city.
“My son did so much for people in Lexington,” she said. “Regardless of what was going on, he was that type of person.”
Head, who was between jobs, still gave children from the community toys and haircuts and offered money to help them stay off the streets, Mayfield said. Before he died, he gave some of his clothes and shoes to someone who needed them.
His laugh and smile were contagious. She said he had a good heart, and Head would say that regardless of what people do to us, we have to love in return.
Mayfield knew her son was not perfect and had prior criminal convictions, including being part of the youngest in a group of men who robbed a grocery store 14 years ago. But he didn’t deserve to die and be shot in the back, she said.
Jill Collen Jefferson, an attorney with the civil rights organization Julian, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Lexington police has subjected Black residents to excessive force, intimidation and false arrests for over a year under two police chiefs: Henderson and his predecessor, Sam Dobbins, was fired after a recording surfaced of him using racist and homophobic language.
She has heard from people in the community who, like Mayfield, are family members of crime victims and have had difficulty seeking help from the police department and have felt frustrated about investigations.
Jefferson said you have a police department not only accused of misconduct against residents but also one that doesn’t seem to act when there are legitimate crimes to investigate.
After Head’s death, Mayfield notified her life insurance company and submitted a claim to be able to receive a payout. The plan was to use the insurance money to help cover her son’s funeral and support Head’s four children.
She expected to receive about $40,000 – $20,000 through general insurance coverage and $20,000 under accidental coverage, which covers homicide deaths.
To investigate the claim, Mayfield’s insurance company reached out to the Lexington police and asked whether the beneficiary, Mayfield, was a person of interest in Head’s homicide and whether Head contributed to his own death by participating in a riot or committing a crime.
Henderson wrote “unknown,” about Mayfield being a person of interest and Head’s participation in a riot, according to a copy of the insurance claim investigation shared with Mississippi Today.
Mayfield said she was never questioned as a person of interest and she was not in Lexington the night of Head’s shooting. She doesn’t understand how police could say her son was participating in a riot because there was not one happening when he arrived at his girlfriend’s house.
For the last question, Henderson hand wrote that Head was a “felon in possession of (a) firearm/possession of (a) controlled substance (felony).”
Mayfield was told by police that drugs were found in a bag in her son’s car and a gun was recovered from a shirt pocket. But she notes that the insurance company’s question wasn’t what was in his possession or his criminal history, but whether Head was committing a crime or fleeing the police at the time of his death.
Days after Henderson provided those answers, Mayfield received a letter from the insurance company saying the accidental death benefit was denied based on information from the police.
Henderson did not respond to a request for comment about the information he provided.
Mayfield reached out to Lexington City Attorney Katherine Riley and Mayor Robin McCory about revising and resubmitting the information provided to the life insurance company. They have not responded to her or Missisisppi Today’s request for comment.
Seth Pounds, director of risk management and insurance at Mississippi State University’s College of Business, said once someone dies, insurance companies often seek information such as police reports or medical records to see if the death is covered under the beneficiary’s policy.
“Any time there’s a homicide and a life insurance claim, usually the law enforcement will have the most relevant investigative (information),” he said.
Pounds said it’s common for insurance companies to rely on law enforcement reports because of the assumption that they are trustworthy or unbiased.
Mayfield also applied to the state’s victim compensation program. Under state law, compensation is not available under several circumstances, including if the victim has a previous conviction or is under supervision by the Mississippi Department of Corrections within five years prior to death or injury.
Mayfield said Head’s prior convictions are why her application was denied.
Of the $3.66 million in compensation funds distributed in 2022, only 7.8% of all claims were denied because the victim or person who applied on the individual’s behalf had a previous conviction, said Debbee Hancock, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, which oversees the compensation program.
In the almost six and a half months since his death, Mayfield has gone through a variety of emotions: anger, sadness, disbelief.
Head’s daughters, age 11 and 8, understand that their father is gone and are holding up the best they can, she said.
Recently, one of the girls woke up in the middle of the night screaming for her father, and asked her grandmother to “go undead my daddy.” Another time, one of the girls said she wanted to be dead like her father so she could see him again, Mayfield said.
Mayfield said she had a special bond with Head because she had him at 16, so they grew up together. Head was also close with his mother’s siblings because he and Mayfield lived with them and his maternal grandmother.
August was difficult because Head would have celebrated his 32nd birthday. Last week, people showed love for him on Facebook and some visited his gravesite to leave balloons, Mayfield said.
His death magnifies another loss. Mayfield’s former partner, Milton Mayfield Jr. – whom Head called daddy – was shot and killed in 2002 in Lexington. Someone was arrested for his death but not convicted, Tracie Mayfield said.
“It hurts 21 years later to see the same thing happening,” she said.
Mayfield knows her problems with the Lexington police go beyond her son’s homicide investigation and life insurance.
She is aware of concerns expressed by Black residents about policing in the city and ongoing legal action against the city and police department.
In June, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clark of the Civil Rights Division visited Lexington to meet with residents and talk about the Justice Department’s commitment to addressing civil rights issues, including law enforcement accountability.
“The Department of Justice is taking what is happening in Lexington very seriously,” Jefferson said.
Mayfield knows her son is gone, but she still finds herself waiting for him to call just like he did multiple times a day or walk through her door.
Holiday family gatherings are coming up and Mayfield is usually the one who hosts. She doesn’t know how to feel about celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas without her son.
“I don’t even know how I am going to put up decorations,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel.”