April 22nd, 2024

Mississippi ex-deputy gets 20-year sentence in racist torture of two Black men

By Michael Goldberg, The Associated Press on March 19, 2024.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A former Mississippi sheriff’s deputy was sentenced Tuesday to about 20 years in prison for his part in torturing two Black men last year.

Hunter Elward was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee, who is also due to sentence five other former law enforcement officers who admitted to subjecting Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker to numerous acts of racist torture.

In January 2023, the group of six burst into a Rankin County home without a warrant and assaulted Jenkins and Parker with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects. Elward admitted to shoving a gun into Jenkins’ mouth and firing in a “mock execution” that went awry.

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.”

Once inside, they handcuffed Jenkins and his friend 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.

After a mock execution went awry when Jenkins was shot in the mouth, they devised a coverup that included planting drugs and a gun. False charges stood against Jenkins and Parker for months.

Ahead of sentencing, Jenkins and Parker called for the “stiffest of sentences” at a news conference Monday.

“It’s been very hard for me, for us,” Jenkins said. “We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

Jenkins suffered a lacerated tongue and broken jaw. He still has trouble speaking and eating.

Malik Shabazz, an attorney representing both men, said the result of the sentencing hearings could have national implications.

“Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker continue to suffer emotionally and physically since this horrific and bloody attack by Rankin County deputies,” Shabazz said. “A message must be sent to police in Mississippi and all over America, that level of criminal conduct will be met with the harshest of consequences.”

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.

The officers charged include McAlpin, Dedmon, Elward, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and Joshua Hartfield, a Richland police officer. They pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy against rights, obstructions of justice, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm under a crime of violence, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Court papers identified Hunter Elward as one of the Goon Squad members. The others identified as part of the squad were Middleton and Opdyke.

Most of their lawyers did not respond to emails requesting comment Monday. Jason Kirschberg, representing Opdyke, said: “Daniel has accepted responsibility for his actions, and his failures to act. … He has admitted he was wrong and feels deep remorse for the pain he caused the victims.”

On the federal charges, Dedmon and Elward each faced a maximum sentence of 120 years plus life in prison and $2.75 million in fines. Hartfield faces a possible sentence of 80 years and $1.5 million, McAlpin faces 90 years and $1.75 million, Middleton faces 80 years and $1.5 million, and Opdyke could be sentenced to 100 years with a $2 million fine.

The former officers agreed to prosecutor-recommended sentences ranging from five to 30 years in state court, but time served for separate convictions at the state level will run concurrently with the potentially longer federal sentences.

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.

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.

___

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.

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