Six White former officers await sentencing after pleading guilty to torturing two Black men in Rankin County, Mississippi. On Aug. 3, the former officers—Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke, deputies with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department, and Joshua Hartfield, a Richland, Miss., police officer—who called themselves the “Goon Squad,”—
pleaded guilty to 14 federal criminal 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. They also pleaded guilty to several state charges on Aug. 14, including assault, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
“The very dangerous Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Updyke, Middleton and Hartfield have all pled guilty to every act alleged in Michael Jenkins (and) Eddie Parker’s $400 million-dollar civil lawsuit,” attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz said to The Final Call.
Atty. Trent Walker, who represents the two Black men, Michael Jenkins, 32, and Eddie Parker, 35, alongside Atty. Shabazz, said he feels a sense of vindication. The attorneys said this is the first time White officers in Mississippi have been held accountable for brutality against a Black person. The civil lawsuit against Rankin County, county Sheriff Brian Bailey and all known members of the “Goon Squad,” was filed in June.
“We are happy that all of the facts that we have been alleging since we began working on this case were borne out and actually admitted to in federal court before a veteran federal judge, and they admitted every allegation that we made in our complaint, as well as some things that we never alleged,” Atty. Walker said.
“And additionally, three of them then turned around and immediately pled guilty to brutality in a second case that we had no knowledge of. So that goes to show that certainly there has been a pattern of abuse in particular by these officers and we believe others going on within the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department here in Mississippi.”
Angela English, president of the Rankin County NAACP, called the incident a travesty.
“It was horrendous. I’m not shocked at the fact that it happened. Disappointed that it is still happening in 2023,” she said.
The torture session
Atty. Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice recounted to The Final Call the graphic details of the almost two-hour torture session that took place on January 24. “What happens seems shocking. It seems unbelievable, outrageous and unheard of to many, but it’s all true,” Atty. Shabazz said.
It started when the officers broke into the Braxton, Mississippi, home where Mr. Parker and Mr. Jenkins lived and resided to “intentionally torture and terrorize them for racial reasons.”
“They believe that no Black men should be allowed in the area, and they accused them of dating White women,” Atty. Shabazz said. “Repeatedly during the course of this one-and-a-half, almost two-hour torture session, they were calling them racial slurs such as n****s and monkeys.”
After breaking into the house with no warrant, the officers immediately handcuffed the men and beat them. Throughout the torture session, the officers continuously stunned them with their tasers. One officer “shot his gun near their heads to frighten them in an attempt to make them believe that he was going to kill them,” Atty. Shabazz said.
Officers then waterboarded Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker “by having both men lay on their backs handcuffed while they poured milk, grease and liquor all over their faces,” the attorney said.
The officers inserted a sexual device into one of the victim’s mouths and attempted to insert it into the other man’s mouth. They then attempted to anally rape Mr. Jenkins and only stopped the attempt when they saw he had defecated on himself. The torture session continued, as the officers forced the men to strip naked and shower together.
Afterward, Mr. Elward led the other officers in a mock execution, where they had both men with their knees on the ground and held what Atty. Shabazz described as a “taser contest.”
“And then Hunter Elward went up to little poor Michael Jenkins and he took his service weapon and put it in his mouth,” the attorney said. The officer shot Mr. Jenkins. The bullet shattered Mr. Jenkins’ jaw, lacerated his tongue and severed multiple arteries, causing him to undergo several surgeries.
He has suffered permanent cognitive damage, psychological damage, permanent disfigurement and impairment, according to a “plea for prosecution” letter his attorneys submitted to the Department of Justice in May. Mr. Parker also suffered from injuries and continues to suffer psychological damage.
“When they shot Michael Jenkins, Jenkins, as he says, was just laying there believing that he was dying and knowing that he was dying and Eddie Parker thought he was going to die,” Atty. Shabazz said.
While Mr. Jenkins lay bleeding, the officers moved to the porch to discuss how to cover up their actions. One grabbed a drop gun from his car and planted it on Mr. Jenkins. Another planted methamphetamine. After the incident, Mr. Elward swore under oath that Mr. Jenkins tried to kill him, and Mr. Jenkins was charged with aggravated assault. Both men were charged with possession of drugs. The charges against both men have since been dropped.
“(They) scared Eddie Parker into believing that he better say that he did not see anything. … Two of the leaders told the other officers if any of them told what happened, that they would be killed,” Atty. Shabazz said. “And then Michael Jenkins in ICU, he woke up to all of the same department, Rankin County, handcuffing him to the bed while he’s fighting for his life; the same department that has just tortured him … .”
These are the crimes and the torts and the root-fact pattern that led to the ultimate guilty pleas by these deputies, which is historic in the state of Mississippi, Atty. Shabazz explained.
The true story of what happened Jan. 24 may not have been known if it were not for Monica Lee, mother of Damien Cameron, a young Black man who was killed by some of the very same officers. Ms. Lee knows the Jenkins family and was aware of what happened early on. She reached out to Marquell Bridges, president and founder of Building Bridges for Community Unity and Progress and Black Lives Matter Grassroots Mississippi, who helps families impacted by police brutality, racism, and gun violence.
Mr. Bridges drove to Jackson, Mississippi, which is about 25 miles away from Braxton, to meet with the Jenkins family. He connected them to their attorneys and posted about the incident on Facebook.
The guilty pleas are a result of strong advocacy by Mr. Bridges, Black Lawyers for Justice, Atty. Trent Walker, Kareem Muhammad of the Mississippi Justice Party and the Greenville Local Organizing Committee, Ms. English and civil rights activist John C. Barnett.
“My fighting spirit and tenacity as an attorney in this case, which has helped bring about this result, I’m honored to say that I get that fighting spirit from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and my mentor Khalid Muhammad,” Atty. Shabazz said. “The approach that they teach me from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad demands that we want freedom, justice and equality. That fearlessness and fighting spirit and thoroughness is what is a great part of helping me to get success today in this hour on behalf of my clients.”
Crooked police squads
The six officers were a part of what they called the “Goon Squad.”
“Goon” is based on the last name of an old, Rankin County Sheriff, a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard who “tortured, disproportionately locked up, beat and murdered Black people,” Mr. Bridges said. “So, to even be a part of this squad, you have to be racist, and not only racist, you have to be brutal and willing to break the law and commit crimes.”
The squad is not a legal police unit, but a group of officers who get initiated informally. Ms. English described it as a “rite of passage” where a “select few” are chosen and are rewarded for how badly they can hurt people. It is unknown how many officers are a part of the squad. Its members have a history of abuse outside of what happened to Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker. Ms. English said she is sure there are still unknown victims in jail.
“This is how they get you to commit false confessions. When they kick in your door and don’t find no drugs, they beat you, torture you and sexually assault you until you tell them whatever (they) want,” Mr. Bridges said. “They also planted guns and drugs on Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker. It’s not their first time doing that. To think that they were comfortable enough to do this in front of (five) other officers, it wasn’t their first time. This is patterns and practice. This is how they do business.”
He described the history of Rankin County police torturing and murdering Black men. Mr. Elward and Mr. Dedmon were involved in the shooting of Pierre Woods in 2019, whose family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against law enforcement officers and agencies.
In 2021, deputies Elward and Luke Stickman allegedly beat and tased 29-year-old Damien Cameron. They also allegedly kneeled on his back and neck for several minutes.
“He left his mom’s house unresponsive, brutally beaten, and on life support,” Mr. Bridges said.
He listed several disturbing cases in Mississippi that have led up to the current climate: the disappearance of 25-year-old Rasheem Carter in October 2022 in central Mississippi and the discovery of his remains; the killing of 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan by a Gulfport, Miss., police officer in October 2022; the killing of 11-year-old Aderrien Murry by an Indianola, Miss., officer in May of this year; the killing of 15-year-old Cornelius McGee Jr. by a former officer in Clarksdale, Miss., also in May; and the deaths of mother and son Debbie Loggins and Robert Loggins, who both died in police custody 13 years apart.
Mr. Bridges explained that the problem in Mississippi is not just a police problem. He accused the courts of lying to families and withholding and destroying evidence, medical examiners of destroying bodies to prevent families from getting a second autopsy, and he accuses the District Attorney’s offices lack of energy in convicting police officers who do harm.
“I’m sure there are layers to this, and we need to keep pulling the layers back. That’s the only way we can stop this from ever happening again,” Ms. English said.
Corrupt police units have been under scrutiny all over the country, from the “jump-out boys” who ride around in unmarked vehicles to terrorize unsuspecting citizens, to the ongoing trauma and aftermath of the actions of Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” to the “Red Dog” unit of Atlanta.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has called out corrupt police officers for decades. In his critical July 4, 2020, message titled, “The Criterion,” he talked about how easily officers lie to justify murder.
“If you could read the record, the police records of what they say in their reports that they write, they have concocted lies to justify their murder of our brothers and sisters. Why are the police quitting now? You should all quit,” he said. “Because if in your presence there you think that you’re going to come into the Black community and do what you’ve been doing, you better quit.
The ‘jump out boys’ better stay in the White community. Don’t come where we live and jump out because you may never get back in. Real talk now. We can’t take it anymore. We won’t take it anymore.”
According to sworn testimonies and numerous reports, Commander Burge in Chicago and his crew of crooked cops used cattle prods to electric shock the genitals of suspects, handcuffed suspects to hot radiators and beat suspects into false confessions and tainted information. Their reign of terror reportedly lasted from 1972 to 1991.
While Commander Burge has since died, his and his crew’s victims are still calling for reform and accountability. In June, they and community members and organizations in Chicago urged newly elected Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson to fund the police accountability council recently established.
Atlanta’s aggressive “Red Dog” unit, which operated from the 1980s to 2011, entered back into the news after the brutal death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis oversaw the “Red Dog” unit for almost 18 months, in 2006 and 2007. She went on to launch the Scorpion unit in Memphis in late 2021, whose officers were responsible for beating Mr. Nichols to death in January.
Atlanta has settled at least 10 lawsuits related to Red Dog unit misconduct, costing taxpayers more than $2 million in settlements, according to an NBC News review.
At a rally for Chicago police torture victim Cortez Brown in April 2009, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan condemned and called for a national movement against police brutality and torture. “The reason we are here is because a cry is going out, not only here, but all over the earth for justice,” he said. “(This) is a pandemic that is all over the country and this has to be not a local movement, but a national movement to help the victims of torture.”
The six former officers in Mississippi will be sentenced in November. Atty. Shabazz said and he expects them to receive decades behind bars. “The sentences to be handed out for hate-filled and torturous acts by the defendants, under the leadership of sheriff Bryan Bailey, must be very strong.
Black lawyers for Justice, Mississippi advocates for justice and the Jenkins and Parker families will all be advocating at the November sentencing in U.S. District Court, and pressing for the maximum sentences to be levied against the Rankin County ‘Goon Squad’ as a deterrent to rogue police brutality nationwide,” he said.
“Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker continue to suffer emotionally and physically since this horrific occurrence, as well as the entire Rankin County community due to the policies and customs of Rankin County and it’s sheriff’s department under the mis-leadership of Bryan Bailey, who is directly responsible for the vicious acts of his subordinates.” he said.
“Right now to have these criminals off the street, these are some seriously known and feared gangsters in Rankin County. It’s a major victory. They got people coming out of the woodwork talking about years and years of oppression. Every day we get new facts on how dirty they have been,” the attorney added.
“And it’s all the fault of the sheriff. Nothing like this happens in a police department unless the sheriff has known about it and/or is completely incompetent to supervise it. It’s really the sheriff, Brian Bailey’s fault and the county’s fault for allowing this, but because this ‘Goon Squad’ kept Black people in order, they all looked the other way. As long as they kept Black people in order, they were willing to tolerate their terror.”
Atty. Walker expressed hope that the convictions will send a message to law enforcement throughout the nation that “you cannot carry on abusive practices like this.”
“You can’t do those things and there not be a reckoning,” he said.
In June, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Rankin County, Sheriff Brian Bailey and all known members of the “Goon Squad” seeking $400 million in damages.