Six former Mississippi officers, some of whom called themselves “The Goon Squad,” admitted Thursday guilt to a racist attack on two Black men which ended in an officer shooting a man in the face.
Documents show that the officers, all of whom are white, entered a home without a search warrant on January 24, and assaulted men using a sexy toy, stun guns, and other objects over a 90-minute span. Documents show that after a victim was injured in a “mock-execution” gone wrong, the officers conspired instead to tamper and plant evidence.
In February, the Justice Department began its civil rights investigation. The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office announced on Thursday that it has filed state charges, including assault and conspiracy, against six former officers.
Christian Dedmon and Hunter Elward, as well as Brett McAlpin Jeffrey Middleton, and Daniel Opdyke, all former Rankin County Sheriff’s Department staff, pleaded guilt. Joshua Hartfield, an ex-Richland policeman who was not on duty at the time of the raid, pleaded guilty.
Dedmon and Elward pleaded guilty as well to three federal felonies for an incident that occurred on December 4. Dedmon, Elward, and Opdyke also pleaded guilty to three federal felony offenses for a separate incident on Dec. 4.
The defendants in the case inflicted unspeakable injuries on their victims, said U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland. He added that they “egregiously” violated civil rights of Americans who were supposed to be protected.
The Associated Press conducted an investigation that linked the deputies with at least four violent confrontations with Black men between 2019 and 2019. Two of these encounters resulted in death, while another left a victim with permanent injuries.
The brutality of U.S. police has been brought under greater scrutiny after the killing of George Floyd in 2020 by Minneapolis Police and the beating death of Tyre Nichls following a traffic arrest in Memphis Tennessee.
Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said that the Mississippi officers “caused harm to an entire community, which feels they cannot trust the police officers, who are supposed serve them.”
According to court documents, the officers adopted the nickname Goon Squad “because they were willing to use excessive violence and not report it.”
In June, the victims, Michael Corey Jenkins, and Eddie Terrell Parker filed a federal civil right lawsuit against Rankin County, seeking $400 million damages. In documents, the victims are only identified by initials. However, Jenkins and Parker have spoken publicly about this incident.
Former officers were shackled on their wrists and ankles as they walked in with family and federal marshals arrested all six. Defense attorneys didn’t comment on the behavior of their clients during court appearance.
U.S. attorney Darren LaMarca stated, “They became criminals that they swore we would be protected from.” Now, they will be treated like the criminals they are.
The men will be sentenced by U.S. district judge Tom Lee in mid-November. Dedmon, Elward and their attorneys each face the possibility of a maximum 120-year sentence plus life imprisonment and $2.75million in fines. Hartfield could receive a sentence of up to 80 years in prison and $1.5million, McAlpin 90 years in prison and $1.75million, Middleton 80 years plus $1.5million, and Opdyke 100 years plus a fine of $2 million.
Mary-Helen Wall said that the men will plead guilty on August 14 to state charges.
Officers initially went to the Braxton home because a neighbor who was white complained that Black people were staying in the home of a woman who was white. Documents show that Parker had been a friend of the homeowner for many years and helped her care for her.
The documents state that officers used racial slurs to describe the two men and warned them to leave Rankin County, go to Jackson, or ‘their’ side of the Pearl River – areas with a higher concentration of Black residents.
Documents in court state that Elward pushed a gun inside Jenkins’ mouth, and then fired. The bullet lacerated Jenkins’ tongue, broke his jaw and exited his neck.
The officers had agreed, before the raid, to enter the house without a search warrant as long as they avoided being seen by the security cameras. The officers also intended to use excessive violence but not cause visible injuries on the faces of the men so that “there would be no bad mug shots,” according to the documents.
Deputies forced the victims to lie backwards and poured milk, alcohol and syrup into their mouths. The men were forced to shower and strip to remove any evidence.
They also electrocuted victims repeatedly with stun guns in order to determine which weapons are more powerful, the ones from the police or the sheriffs’ department. Middleton offered to place an unregistered gun at the scene.
Documents in court have identified Opdyke, and Dedmon, as suspects for assaulting the two men using the sex toys.
Keith Taylor, former New York City Police Officer and professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that despite the recurrent instances of corruption and brutality by police officers, they are generally doing their job properly.
Taylor stated, “In this case, there is racism and the inhumanity of officers’ conduct.”
Rankin County Sherriff Bryan Bailey reported on June 27, that five of the deputies involved had been terminated or resigned. Hartfield, the sixth officer, was also fired.
Bailey said Thursday that he learned about Jenkins and Parker’s fate from court documents which were not sealed.
Bailey stated, “This is by far the worst incident of police violence I have ever heard of in my career and I am ashamed that it occurred at this department.”
Malik Shabazz thanked the Justice Department for its support of Jenkins and Parker in a Thursday statement from Black Lawyers for Justice.
Shabazz stated that “these guilty pleas are historical for justice against rogue torture by police in Rankin County, and throughout America.” “Today’s verdict is historic for Mississippi, and civil and human rights across America.”