Six former Mississippi officers sentenced to more than 130 years combined for racist torture of two Back men

The group of deputies – which called itself the ‘Goon Squad’ – handcuffed, beat and tasered the victims during a raid on a home in Braxton in January 2023

Dan Gooding
New York
Thursday 21 March 2024 21:13 GMT
This combination of photos shows top row L-R former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin and bottom row L-R Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield appearing at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Mississippi on 14 August, 2023
This combination of photos shows top row L-R former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin and bottom row L-R Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield appearing at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Mississippi on 14 August, 2023 (AP)

All six former Mississippi police officers who tortured two Black men during a raid on a home in January 2023 have now been sentenced, with their jail time reaching more than 130 years between them.

At a final hearing on Thursday afternoon, former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield was sentenced to just over 10 years in prison, after trying to destroy evidence of the group’s crimes.

Hartfield, along with five former Rankin County Sheriff’s Office deputies, were part of the so-called “Goon Squad” who subjected Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker to hours of abuse after breaking into the home they were staying in without a warrant in January 2023.

Earlier on Thursday morning Brett McAlpin, 53, was handed a 327 month, or 27.25 years, prison sentence.

On Wednesday, Daniel Opdyke, 28, was handed a 17.5-year sentence and Christian Dedmon, 29, was jailed for 40 years, while on Tuesday Hunter Elward, 31, and Jeffrey Middleton, 46, were jailed for 20 and 17 years respectively.

After breaking into the home in Braxton on 24 January 2023, the group then subjected the two victims to several hours of torture which included tasering, waterboarding and assault with a dildo, before culminating in Mr Jenkins being shot in the mouth by Elward.

At his Thursday hearing, McAlpin told the victims he was sorry, reported CNN.

“I’m sorry to your families because I have three boys and I know I would feel the very same, no different than you did, for what happened to Michael and Eddie. What happened was wrong,” McAlpin said.

The former officer, who lived in the neighbourhood where the victims were staying and made the initial call to another officer about them, was not alone in telling the pair he was sorry.

At his sentencing on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that Opdyke said his time behind bars had given him time to reflect on his part.

“The weight of my actions and the harm I’ve caused will haunt me every day,” Opdyke told the victims, weeping as he spoke. “I wish I could take away your suffering.”

When Dedmon was sentenced, the AP said he did not look at the victims but said he would never forgive himself for the pain he caused.

Mr Jenkins responded through his lawyer, describing Dedmon as “the most aggressive, sickest and most wicked” of the six individuals.

The two men’s apologies came after Elward turned to the victims and apologised on Tuesday morning.

“I’m so sorry,” the former officer told Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker, CNN reported. “I don’t want to get too personal with you, Michael.

“There’s no telling what you’ve seen. I’m so sorry that I caused that. I hate myself for it. I hate that I gave you that. I accept all responsibility.”

Mr Jenkins reportedly nodded, while Mr Parker stood up and said: “We forgive you, man”.

The group, who called themselves the “Goon Squad” for their use of excessive force, called the pair racial slurs during the January 2023 raid, telling them to stay out of Raskin County.

Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker were also punched, kicked, tasered 17 times, assaulted with a dildo and forced to “ingest liquids”. Dedmon also fired his gun twice to intimidate the men.

When that was over, Elward removed a bullet from his gun and then placed the device in Mr Jenkins’s mouth before pulling the trigger. Elward then racked the gun, intending to dry-fire for a second time but instead, the firearm discharged, lacerated Mr Jenkins’s tongue and broke his jaw.

Elward faced the most serious charge from the January 2023 attack – discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.

While he faced up to 30 years in prison, the judge opted for an approximately 20-year sentence.

After Elward fired his gun during the incident last January, and the victim lay on the floor bleeding, the defendants didn’t provide medical aid.

Instead, the Department of Justice said, they gathered outside the home to come up with a false cover story.

Part of that cover included planting a gun on Mr Jenkins, destroying surveillance footage and submitting fake drug evidence to the crime lab.

The victims then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in June 2023, with the indictments unsealed in August.

It was then that the former officers pleaded guilty to a combination of 13 felonies.

“No human being should ever be subjected to the kind of torturous, traumatising and horrific acts of violence that were carried out by these law enforcement officers,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in August.

“The physical and emotional impact of their crimes resulted from a calculated, deliberate, and egregious course of conduct that required a significant response from authorities.”

Despite the words of forgiveness, Mr Parker said in his victim’s impact statement that the crime will haunt him forever.

“The very bad actions of the Rankin County ‘Goon Squad’ severely impacted me and left a scar on me forever,” Mr Parker’s statement, read by attorney Malik Shabazz, said.

“I don’t know if I will ever be able to sleep at night. I fear I will be attacked again and even killed.”

Mr Jenkins added that he did not think he would ever be the person he was before the incident.

Following the first sentences on Tuesday, US Attorney General Merrick B Garland called the attacks “heinous”.

“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,” the Attorney General said in a statement.

“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.”

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