Ex-officers plead guilty to more charges after beating, sexual assault of Black men in Mississippi

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Six white former law enforcement officers in Mississippi pleaded guilty Monday to state charges connected to the beating and sexual assault of two Black men, one of whom was shot in the mouth.

Five former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies and another officer pleaded guilty to home invasion, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and obstruction of justice nearly two weeks after pleading guilty to more than a dozen federal charges connected to the same incident.

Each one agreed to sentences recommended by state prosecutors ranging from five to 30 years, although the judge isn’t bound by that, the Associated Press reported. Time served for the state charges will run concurrently with the federal sentences they are scheduled to receive. Each could get longer prison sentences in federal court in November.

The former law enforcement officers are former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Brett McAlpin, 52, Christian Dedmon, 28, Jeffrey Middleton, 46, Hunter Elward, 31, and Daniel Opdyke, 27; and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield, 31, according to the indictment in the Southern District of Mississippi.

Prosecutors say some of the officers nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and cover it up, including the attack that ended with a deputy shooting one victim in the mouth.

‘Justice will be served’ victim says

Michael Corey Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker said the officers burst into a home without a warrant on Jan. 24. The men said deputies beat them, assaulted them with a sex toy and shocked them repeatedly with stun guns during a roughly 90-minute period. Jenkins said one of the deputies shoved a gun in his mouth and fired the weapon.

“This brutal attack caused more than physical harm to these two individual victims; it severed that vital trust with the people,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch previously said in a statement. “This abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey said the deputies involved had been fired in June, but he would not initially identify them, say how many law enforcement officers were fired, or answer additional questions about the incident.

However, on Monday each former officer appeared in court when making their pleas, wearing jumpsuits with the names of jails covered by tape.

“I enjoyed the view of seeing the walk of shame. Head down, the disgust everybody felt for them and that they feel for themselves,” Parker said after the ex-officers were led away in shackles. “I hope this is a lesson to everybody out there: Justice will be served.”

In a statement, Bailey said Monday that “We hope that today’s guilty pleas bring some sense of justice to the two victims in this case,” WLBT-TV reported.

Beating, sexual assault and a ‘mock execution’

According to the federal indictment, Parker was staying at the home of a longtime friend and Jenkins was there temporarily. One of the officers received a complaint from one of his white neighbors that some “suspicious” Black men had been staying at the property.

That night, the officer reached out to a group of officers and asked if they were “available for a mission,” according to the complaint.

The officers burst into the home, handcuffed the men and repeatedly shocked them with stun guns. The group shouted commands at the men, used racial slurs and assaulted the men with a sex toy. One officer “demanded to know where the drugs were” and fired a bullet into a wall, the complaint said.

At one point, the officers “poured milk, alcohol, and chocolate syrup on their faces and into their mouths,” the complaint said. One officer also “poured cooking grease” on Parker’s head. Another threw eggs at the men.

The officers used a wooden kitchen implement, a metal sword and pieces of wood to beat Parker.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show stun guns used by the deputies were turned on, turned off or used dozens of times during a roughly 65-minute period before Jenkins was shot.

The horrific incident culminated in a “mock execution,” when one officer fired a bullet in Jenkins’ mouth, lacerating his tongue, breaking his jaw and exiting his neck, the complaint said.

Officers attempted to ‘cover up their misconduct’

One officer ordered the men to strip naked and shower off “to wash away evidence of abuse,” according to the complaint. The officers then “planted and tampered with evidence to corroborate their false cover story and cover up their misconduct,” according to the complaint.

The officers submitted fraudulent drug evidence to the crime lab, filed false reports, charged Jenkins with crimes he did not commit, made false statements to investigators, pressured witnesses to stick to the cover story, planted a gun and destroyed video evidence, shell casings, and stun gun cartridges, according to the complaint.

Officers plead guilty to federal charges

The officers appeared in federal court on Aug. 3 and pleaded guilty to 13 federal felony offenses, including civil rights conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.

“The details of the crimes these defendants committed is a horrific and stark example of violent police misconduct which has no place in our society today,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said at a news conference earlier this month.

Officers accused of previous misconduct

The family of another Black man, Damien Cameron, maintains deputies knelt on his back and neck for several minutes at a scene before he died in police custody in 2021. A grand jury declined to charge Elward over the incident.

Elward and another deputy were the responding officers at the fatal 2019 shooting of Pierre Woods. In 2020, another Black man, Carvis Johnson, sued the department and accused Dedmon of placing a gun in his mouth during a drug bust in 2019.

Dedmon, Elward, and Opdyke have also pleaded guilty to using excessive force in a separate incident last year. In the incident, Dedmon beat and used a stun gun on a white man and fired a gun near his head to coerce a confession while Elward and Opdyke failed to intervene.

Deputies to be sentenced in November

The former officers are scheduled for sentencing on the federal charges on Nov. 14. Potential sentences on the federal charges vary for each of the officers and include a maximum of a life sentence, Darren LaMarca, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said at the news conference.

The Justice Department also opened a civil rights investigation into the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department after the incident. Jenkins and Parker have also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking $400 million in damages.

Bailey acknowledged the deputies’ actions eroded the public’s trust and pledged to work to restore it.

Contributing: Terry Collins, Nick Penzenstadler and Kayla Jimenez, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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