A federal judge ruled on Friday that there’s enough evidence to allow six Black-owned funeral homes to sue a county coroner in Mississippi for steering business to competing White-owned funeral homes, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove has “all but completely excluded” the Black-owned funeral homes from obtaining business from the county, the attorney representing the plaintiffs stated, adding that Hargrove’s decisions are based on race.
Hargrove usually makes decisions on the county’s behalf about picking up bodies, autopsies, storage and burials. U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett saw sufficient evidence that the coroner showed favoritism toward White-owned funeral homes to justify a trial. One of the plaintiffs testified that the coroner told her that his decisions about where to direct corpses is based on racial: “White bodies go to White funeral homes and Black bodies go to Black funeral homes.” The judge dismissed some of the claims but kept 10 out of 13.
The coroner and a county lawyer denied the allegation. They claimed the coroner’s office follows directions from the deceased and their families. A pathologist, who’s independent of the coroner’s office, performs the autopsies and typically conducts them at White-owned funeral homes. The Black-owned funeral homes also lack important resources like proper refrigeration. The judge, however, was not convinced by their defense.