2 former Mississippi sheriff's deputies sentenced to decades in prison in racially motivated torture of 2 Black men

Former Mississippi officers sentenced for torturing Black men

Two former Mississippi sheriff's deputies were sentenced Tuesday for their roles in torturing two Black men. Hunter Elward received an approximately 20-year sentence from U.S. District Judge Tom Lee in a Jackson federal court. Jeffrey Middleton, the leader of the so-called "Goon Squad" that abused the men, was given a 17.5-year prison sentence. 

Four other former law enforcement officers are also set to be sentenced this week by the same judge. All six ex-officers pleaded guilty in August to state charges that they submitted the two Black men to numerous acts of racially motivated torture in January 2023. 

Before sentencing, Lee called Elward's crimes "egregious and despicable," and said a "sentence at the top of the guidelines range is justified - is more than justified." He continued: "It's what the defendant deserves. It's what the community and the defendant's victims deserve."  

The terror began on Jan. 24, 2023, with a racist call for extrajudicial violence. A white person phoned Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman at a house in Braxton, Mississippi. McAlpin told Deputy Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies so willing to use excessive force they called themselves "The Goon Squad."

This combination of photos shows, from top left, former Rankin County sheriff's deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield. Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Once inside, they handcuffed Michael Corey Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker and poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces. They forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess. They mocked the victims with racial slurs and shocked them with stun guns.

Elward admitted to shoving a gun into Jenkins' mouth and firing in a "mock execution" that went awry.

The officers then devised a coverup that included planting drugs and a gun. False charges stood against Jenkins and Parker for months, until one officer told the sheriff he had lied, leading to confessions from others, according to CBS affiliate WJTV. 

Both men, who were sitting in the front row, called for the "stiffest of sentences" for the officers. Their attorney, Malik Shabazz, said they were too traumatized to speak in court, and he read statements on their behalf.

"I am hurt. I am broken," Jenkins wrote in his statement. "They tried to take my manhood from me. They did some unimaginable things to me, and the effects will linger for the rest of my life."

Elward, who wore a dark blue jumpsuit with tape obscuring the name of the facility where he is housed, said before being sentenced that he wouldn't make excuses. He turned to address Jenkins and Parker and looked at them directly.

Michael Corey Jenkins, right, and Eddie Terrell Parker, left, stand with their local attorney Trent Walker, as he calls on a federal judge at a news conference Monday, March 18, 2024, in Jackson, Miss. Rogelio V. Solis / AP

"I don't want to get too personal. I see you every night, and I can't go back and do what's right," Elward said. "I am so sorry for what I did."

His attorney, Joe Hollomon, said Elward had first witnessed Rankin County deputies turn a blind eye to misconduct in 2017.

"It became the new norm, it became institutional," Hollomon said. "Hunter was initiated into a culture of corruption at the Rankin County's sheriff's office."

Elward was also sentenced Tuesday for his role in an assault on another person that took place weeks before Jenkins and Parker were tortured. For the first time Tuesday, prosecutors identified the victim as Alan Schmidt and read a statement from him detailing what happened to him on Dec. 4, 2022. 

During a traffic stop that night, Schmidt said Rankin County deputies accused him of possessing stolen property. They pulled him from the car and beat him. Then, Dedmon forced him to his knees and tried to insert his genitals into Schmidt's mouth, as Elward watched.

"I pray every day that I can forgive them one day and hopefully forget the humiliation and the evil physical and sexual assault that I endured," Schmidt wrote. "I know that I'm not their only victim, and I pray for each victim that has crossed paths with the Goon Squad members."

The officers charged with torturing Parker and Jenkins include Elward, McAlpin, Dedmon, Middleton and Daniel Opdyke of the Rankin County Sheriff's Department and Joshua Hartfield, a Richland police officer. They have pleaded guilty to numerous federal and state charges.

"These defendants kicked in the door of a home where two Black men were residing, handcuffed and arrested them without probable cause, called them racial slurs, and punched, kicked, tased, and assaulted them," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Tuesday evening. "After one of the defendants fired his gun in the mouth of one of the victims, breaking his jaw, the defendants gathered outside to come up with a cover story as the victim lay bleeding on the floor. The Justice Department will hold accountable officers who violate constitutional rights, and in so doing, betray the public trust."

On the federal charges, all the former officers are facing potentially decades-long prison sentences. They also agreed to prosecutor-recommended sentences ranging from five to 30 years in state court. Time served for separate convictions at the state level will run concurrently with the potentially longer federal sentences.

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The majority-white Rankin County is just east of the state capital, Jackson, home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city.

The officers warned Jenkins and Parker to "stay out of Rankin County and go back to Jackson or 'their side' of the Pearl River," court documents say, referencing an area with higher concentrations of Black residents.

In the gruesome crimes committed by men tasked with enforcing the law, federal prosecutors saw echoes of Mississippi's dark history, including the 1964 killing of three civil rights workers after a deputy handed them off to the Ku Klux Klan.

Months before federal prosecutors announced charges in August 2023, an investigation by The Associated Press linked some of the deputies to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries.

For months, Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, whose deputies committed the crimes, said little about the episode. After the officers pleaded guilty in August, Bailey said the officers had gone rogue and promised to change the department. Jenkins and Parker have called for his resignation, and they have filed a $400 million civil lawsuit against the department.


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