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Members of the Mississippi 'Goon Squad' get stiff sentences in torture of 2 Black men

Michael Corey Jenkins, right, follows a friend as he enters the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, for sentencing on the third of the six former Rankin County law enforcement officers who committed racially motivated, violent torture on him and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker in 2023. The six former law officers pleaded guilty to torturing them.
Rogelio V. Solis
/
AP
Michael Corey Jenkins, right, follows a friend as he enters the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, for sentencing on the third of the six former Rankin County law enforcement officers who committed racially motivated, violent torture on him and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker in 2023. The six former law officers pleaded guilty to torturing them.

Updated March 21, 2024 at 4:08 PM ET

JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi federal judge handed down the last two sentences Thursday in a disturbing brutality case in which six white lawmen pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges for torturing two Black men last year during a no-warrant house raid.

They were part of a self-styled "Goon Squad" known locally for using violent and aggressive tactics in Rankin County, a suburb of Jackson, Miss.

U.S. District Judge Tom Lee sentenced a high-ranking former Rankin County sheriff's deputy, Brett McAlpin, to more than 27 years in federal prison for his part in the January 2023 racially-motivated attack on Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker. The Black men were targeted after a neighbor complained about them staying in a white woman's home.

Lee called the former officers' actions "egregious and despicable" and said it justified the top of the range under sentencing guidelines.

The sixth member of the squad, Joshua Hartfield, a former policeman in the town of Richland, got 10 years. Earlier in the week, Judge Lee sentenced other former members of the Rankin County Sheriff's Department: Christian Dedmon to 40 years, the stiffest sentence; Hunter Elward to 20 years; and Daniel Opdyke and Lt. Jeffrey Middleton to 17.5 years each.

The officers beat, tortured, and sexually assaulted Jenkins and Parker for hours. Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth when a mock execution went awry, and the officers also planted drugs and guns to try to coverup their actions with false charges. The white lawmen used stun guns and racial slurs, and told the victims to "go back to their side of the river," meaning the majority Black city of Jackson. Rankin County, to the east, is a largely white community.

More details emerged during the sentencing hearings on how the "Goon Squad" operated. Prosecutors said McAlpin, 53, was seen as a father figure to younger deputies and was responsible for molding the "Goon Squad." Lt. Middleton, 46, devised the plan to coverup the raid and the accidental shooting, according to prosecutors. They said he threatened the others that if anyone told what really happened, he had no problem having them killed.

"Let this be a warning to all police officers in the United States of America," said attorney Malik Shabazz, who represents the victims. "If you allow deputies and officers under your command to go rogue, to commit crimes and to abuse persons you will be held equally as responsible as the shooter and the abuser."

The victims had called for the stiffest of sentences, and were in court for the sentencing hearings. Eddie Parker said he still struggles with the lasting effects of that night. Michael Corey Jenkins said he felt like justice was beginning to be served, and that he's desperate to put this behind him.

The shooting left Jenkins with a broken jaw and a lacerated tongue. "They did some unimaginable things to me," he said in a statement. "They tried to take my manhood from me." He said he felt like a slave.

He called Dedmon the worst. "Deputy Dedmon was the most aggressive, sickest and the most wicked," he said through a statement from his lawyer. Federal prosecutors described Dedmon, 29, and Opdyke, 28, sexually assaulting the men with a sex toy.

Dedmon and Opdyke also pleaded guilty in a separate incident for beating a white motorist during a traffic stop in December 2022.

During his hearing, Elward spoke to the victims directly. "I see you every night," he said. "I can't go back and do what's right. I am sorry for what I did."

Parker replied "I forgive you."

Lt. Middleton, who did not look at the victims, apologized for tarnishing the reputations of Rankin County, law enforcement, and his family. "I will never forgive myself for failing to protect innocent victims and my family."

McAlpin had a similar apology. "I'm really sorry for being a part of something that made law enforcement look so bad," he said, not looking at the victims.

Opdyke cried in court. "The weight of my actions and the harm I've caused will haunt me every day," he said. "I wish I could take away your suffering."

Jenkins and Parker have filed a $400 million civil lawsuit against Rankin County and Sheriff Bryan Bailey. The NAACP and other civil rights groups have called for Bailey to resign or be removed from office, for overseeing a "poisonous culture" of police brutality.

The former officers have yet to be sentenced on state charges.

MPB's Michael McEwen reported from Jackson, Miss. and NPR's Debbie Elliott from Orange Beach, Ala. contributed to this story

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: March 19, 2024 at 10:00 PM MDT
In an earlier version, we incorrectly reported Tom Lee shot Michael Corey Jenkins instead of Deputy Hunter Elward.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Michael McEwen