Ex-Mississippi officers plead guilty to racist assault on 2 Black men during raid

FILE - Michael Corey Jenkins stands outside Taylor Hill Church in Braxton, Miss., March 18, 2023. Six former law enforcement officers in Mississippi have been charged with federal civil rights offenses against two Black men who were brutalized for more than an hour during a home raid before an officer allegedly shot one of the men in the mouth. The charges were unsealed Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023, as the former officers, all of whom are white, appeared in federal court. (AP Photo/HG Biggs, File)
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By Michael Goldberg

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Six white former law enforcement officers in Mississippi who called themselves the “Goon Squad” pleaded guilty Thursday to a racist assault on two Black men in a home raid that ended with an officer shooting one man in the mouth.

The officers entered the house without a warrant on Jan. 24, assaulting the men with a sex object and using stun guns and other objects to abuse them over a roughly 90-minute period, court documents show. After one victim was shot and wounded in a “mock execution” that went awry, the documents say the officers conspired to plant and tamper with evidence instead of providing medical aid.

The Justice Department launched its civil rights probe in February. The Mississippi attorney general’s office announced Thursday it had filed state charges against the six former officers, including assault, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

“The defendants in this case tortured and inflicted unspeakable harm on their victims,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said, adding that they “egregiously violated the civil rights of citizens who they were supposed to protect.”

The civil rights charges come after an Associated Press investigation linked the deputies to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries.

“It’s kind of a partnership in crime,” U.S. District Judge Tom Lee said about the conspiracy charges unsealed Thursday.

Court documents said the officers took on the Goon Squad nickname “because of their willingness to use excessive force and not to report it.”

The two victims, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Rankin County in June seeking $400 million in damages. The bullet fired into Jenkins’ mouth lacerated his tongue and broke his jaw, then exited his neck.

Those charged in the case are five former Rankin County Sheriff’s Department employees — Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke — and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield, who was off duty when he participated in the raid.

Federal marshals took the former officers into custody Thursday, and the judge said the men will be sentenced in mid-November.

The documents identified Elward as the person who shot Jenkins, and Opdyke and Dedmon as the ones who assaulted the two men with the sex object.

The officers initially went to the home in Braxton because a white neighbor had complained that Black people were staying with a white woman who owned the house. Officers used racist slurs against the two men during the raid and “warned them to stay out of Rankin County and go back to Jackson or ‘their side’ of the Pearl River — areas with higher concentrations of Black residents,” the documents say.

Before the raid, the officers agreed to enter without a warrant if they could avoid being spotted by the home’s security cameras. They also planned to use excessive force ahead of time — but not in the face, agreeing to “no bad mugshots,” the documents say.

The officers threw eggs on the handcuffed victims and forced them to lie on their backs while pouring milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup down their mouths. The men were forced to shower to remove the evidence.

The officers also repeatedly electrocuted the victims with stun guns to see whether the sheriff’s department or police department weapons were more powerful.

One deputy, Middleton, offered to plant an unregistered firearm at the scene.

The victims are identified in the court documents only by their initials, but Jenkins and Parker have discussed the episode publicly.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey announced on June 27 that all five deputies involved in the episode had been fired or resigned. Hartfield was later revealed to be the sixth law enforcement officer, and was also fired.

Malik Shabazz, one of the attorneys representing Jenkins and Parker, issued a statement Thursday thanking the Justice Department.

“These guilty pleas are historic for justice against rogue police torture in Rankin County and all over America,” Shabazz said in the statement from Black Lawyers for Justice. “Today is truly historic for Mississippi and for civil and human rights in America.”