April 12th, 2024

Former Mississippi deputy gets more than 27 years in prison for racist torture of 2 Black men

By Michael Goldberg And Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press on March 21, 2024.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A fifth former sheriff’s deputy in Mississippi was sentenced Thursday to more than 27 years in prison for breaking into a home with a group of law enforcement officers as they tortured two Black men, an act the judge called “egregious and despicable.”

Former deputy Brett McAlpin, 53, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee after pleading guilty to the attack, which involved beatings, repeated uses of stun guns and assaults with a sex toy before one of the victims was shot in the mouth. The sixth and final member of the group, 32-year-old former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield is set to be sentenced Thursday afternoon.

The judge sentenced Christian Dedmon, 29, to 40 years and Daniel Opdyke, 28, to 17.5 years on Wednesday. He gave nearly 20 years to Hunter Elward, 31, and 17.5 years to Jeffrey Middleton, 46, on Tuesday. All but Hartfield served with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department outside Mississippi’s capital city, where some called themselves “The Goon Squad.”

In March 2023, months before federal prosecutors announced charges in August, 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.

The officers invented false charges against the victims, planting a gun and illegal drugs at the scene of their crime, and stuck to their cover story for months until finally admitting that they tortured Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker. Elward admitted to shoving a gun into Jenkins’ mouth and firing it in what federal prosecutors said was meant to be a “mock execution.”

For each of the deputies sentenced so far, Lee has handed down prison terms near the top of the sentencing guidelines.

The terror began Jan. 24, 2023, with a racist call for extrajudicial violence when a white person in Rankin County complained to McAlpin that two Black men were staying with a white woman at a house in Braxton. McAlpin told Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies asking if they were “available for a mission.”

“No bad mugshots,” Dedmon texted – a green light, according to prosecutors, to use excessive force on parts of the body that wouldn’t appear in a booking photo.

Dedmon also brought Hartfield, who was instructed to cover the back door of the property during their illegal entry.

Once inside, the officers mocked the victims with racial slurs and shocked them with stun guns. They handcuffed them and poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces. Dedmon and Opdyke assaulted them with a sex toy. They forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess, and Hartfield guarded the bathroom door to make sure the men didn’t escape.

After Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth, lacerating his tongue and breaking his jaw, they devised a coverup. McAlpin pressured Parker to go along with it, asking him to keep quiet in exchange for his freedom. The deputies agreed to plant drugs, and false charges stood against Jenkins and Parker for months.

McAlpin and Middleton, the oldest men of the group, threatened to kill the other officers if they spoke up, prosecutors said in charging documents. In court Thursday, McAlpin’s attorney Aafram Sellers said only Middleton threatened to kill the other officers.

Sellers also questioned probation officer Allie Whitten on the stand about details in a pre-sentence report submitted to the judge. When federal investigators interviewed the neighbor who called McAlpin, that person reported seeing “trashy” people at the house who were both white and Black, Sellers said. That called into question whether the episode started on the basis of race, he argued.

Federal prosecutors said the neighbor referred to people at the home as “those people” and “thugs.” The information included in the charging documents, which the officers did not dispute when they pleaded guilty, revealed some of them used racial taunts and epithets throughout the episode.

The majority-white Rankin County is just east of Jackson, home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city. The officers shouted at Jenkins and Parker to “stay out of Rankin County and go back to Jackson or “˜their side’ of the Pearl River,” court documents say.

Opdyke was the first to admit what they did, his attorney Jeff Reynolds said Wednesday. On April 12, Opdyke showed investigators a WhatsApp text thread where the officers discussed their plan and what happened. Had he thrown his phone in a river, as some of the other officers did, investigators might not have discovered the encrypted messages.

Attorneys for several of the deputies said their clients became ensnared in a culture of corruption that was not only permitted, but encouraged by leaders within the sheriff’s office.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, who took office in 2012, revealed no details about his deputies’ actions when he announced they had been fired last June. After they pleaded guilty in August, Bailey said the officers had gone rogue and promised changes. Jenkins and Parker called for his resignation and filed a $400 million civil lawsuit against the department. Last November, Bailey was reelected without opposition, to another four-year term.

___

Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.

Share this story:
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments