Michael Corey Jenkins, third from left, and Eddie Terrell Parker, right, stand with supporters outside the courthouse in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, March 19, 2024, calling for harsh penalties against six former law enforcement officers who committed numerous acts of racially motivated, violent torture on himself and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker in 2023. The six former law officers pleaded guilty to a number of charges for torturing them and sentencing begins Tuesday in federal court. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Six former Mississippi law enforcement officers, all White, were sentenced on March 19, 20 and 21, by a federal judge for their torture of two Black men in January 2023.

In August, the former deputies—Hunter Elward, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke, Christian Dedmon and Brett McAlpin with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and former Richland, Miss., police officer Joshua Hartfield—pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges,

This combination of photos shows, from top left, former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield appearing at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Miss., Aug. 14, 2023. A federal judge has postponed sentencing for the six former Mississippi law enforcement officers who pleaded guilty to a long list of federal charges for torturing two Black men in January. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Including conspiracy against rights, obstruction 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, including assault, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Mr. Elward was sentenced to more than 20 years, Mr. Middleton and Mr. Opdyke were both sentenced to 17.5 years, Mr. Dedmon was sentenced to 40 years, Mr. McAlpin was sentenced to more than 27 years and Mr. Hartfield was sentenced to 10 years.


In addition, several of the former officers were ordered to pay $79,500 in restitution to the victims. U.S. District Judge Tom Lee conducted the sentencing.

On January 24, 2023, for almost two hours, the six former officers, who dubbed themselves “The Goon Squad,” raided a home without a warrant, hurled racial slurs at the home’s two Black residents, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, handcuffed and beat them with several objects, continuously tased them, waterboarded them with various liquids and used a sexual device on them.

Mr. Elward fired a gun into Mr. Jenkins’ mouth and left him bleeding on the floor, as the former officers planted a gun on the victims and proceeded to come up with an elaborate cover-up story.

A measure of justice

After the first day of sentencing, The Final Call conducted a joint phone interview with Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Parker, activist Marquell Bridges of Black Lives Matter Grassroots Mississippi and president and founder of Building Bridges for Community Unity and Progress, and Andrew Joseph Jr., whose son was killed in Tampa, Florida, in 2014.

“It’s like a dream come true. I knew at the beginning, once they pleaded guilty, … I knew we were going to come out victorious. I can feel it a little bit now,” Mr. Parker said.

“They should’ve got life without parole, compared to what we went through. I can’t tell you what we went through or let you believe and feel what we went through versus you seeing it or being there going through it,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Something’s better than nothing.”

The Final Call did separate interviews with the attorneys representing Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, Atty. Malik Zulu Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice and Atty. Trent Walker, along with Kareem Muhammad of the Greenville Local Organizing Committee, after the second day of sentencing.

“We’re satisfied. And we are pleased that justice is going the way that we intended it. We’ve come a long way. We’ve come from people not believing anything these two brothers have said to now watching the longest prison sentences ever given out to police officers in Mississippi, and in the United States of America, where a Black man has not been killed,” Atty. Shabazz said.

“Based on what we have seen up to this point, and the judge has been nothing if not consistent in this case, we feel justified. We are proud, and I’m proud as a Mississippian to see justice being done in a way with regard to police brutality that we have not seen in the past, in particular, in a case that involves Black victims,” Atty. Walker said.

“We feel justified that the legal system has recognized that every allegation that we made about these officers has turned out to be true and has thoroughly been investigated by the Department of Justice.”

The lead team that helped bring “The Goon Squad” to justice was composed of, from left, Priscilla Williams-Till, cousin of Emmett Till; Atty. Trent Walker; Kareem Muhammad of the Greenville Local Organizing Committee; Atty. Malik Zulu Shabazz, the lead attorney for the case and Sherrell Potts, a commander in the New Black Panther Party. Photo: Gerald Muhammad

The Clarion-Ledger, based in Jackson, Miss., printed part of the victim impact statements.

Part of Mr. Jenkins’ statement reads: “January 24, was the worst day of my life. I was brutally beaten and nearly killed by the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department, also known as the Goon Squad. I never would have thought a night of hanging out with friends would nearly cost me my life. … I’m hurt.

I’m broken. I’m ashamed and embarrassed by the entire situation. They tried to take my manhood from me. They did some unimaginable things to me and the effects of it will linger with me for the rest of my life.”

Part of Mr. Parker’s impact statement reads: “The very bad actions of the Rankin County Goon Squad severely impacted me and has left a scar on me that will last forever. I never knew the ones that were sworn to protect and serve me would be the ones that I needed protection from. I don’t know if I will ever be able to sleep again at night.

I’m in constant fear someone will break into my home and terrorize me. I fear that I will get attacked again or killed by the police in Rankin. … They should be given what they gave me and Michael Jenkins, no mercy.”

Mr. Elward faced a maximum sentence of 70 years. Mr. Joseph expressed his displeasure at seeing the former deputy walk away with 20 years.

“We are wanting to see if it’s 20 years consistent. They love to come on the backend and a year or two later, try to get these officers off another two or three years. We want to make sure that he’s there for the whole 20 years,” he said. “This was a monster that was on the street that was created within the police department. It’s a whole lot deeper than him.”

Student Minister Dr. Abram Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque No. 78 in Jackson expressed his deepest sympathies to the victims. He believes that the minimum should be the maximum for officers who abuse their authority.

“Not only extraneous sentencing should take place, but I think it should be the absolute maximum to send a signal to others who may have this type of malicious thought or have conducted themselves in such a way but may not have been caught,” he said to The Final Call.

He called the sentencing a “slap in the face.”

“For a 20-year sentence for such an atrocity that you committed on another human being. Based upon agreements that we may or may not be privy to, based upon where they’ll be housed, so on and so forth, they may only have to do five and a half to seven years of that, if that,” he said. “This is something that these two Black men are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives.”

‘Culture of corruption’

At least three of the former officers, Mr. Middleton, Mr. Elward and Mr. Opdyke, were known members of “The Goon Squad,” because of their willingness to use excessive force and not report it, according to court documents by federal prosecutors. Mr. Middleton was cited as the squad’s “ringleader.”

But whether a member of “The Goon Squad” or not, the culture of violence within the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department is pervasive. 

A March 2023 investigation by The Associated Press found that several of the former deputies were involved in at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019, leaving two dead and another with lasting injuries. 

Carvis Johnson alleged in a federal lawsuit filed in 2020 that a Rankin County deputy placed a gun into his mouth during a 2019 drug bust, according to the investigation. Also in 2019, deputies shot and killed Pierre Woods. Mr. Elward fired at him eight times, according to a statement to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation obtained by AP. Mr. Dedmon and Deputy Luke Stickman were also among the deputies who fired at him. 

In 2021, Mr. Elward and Mr. Stickman contributed to the death of 29-year-old Damien Cameron. After Mr. Cameron was arrested, he was repeatedly shocked with a taser and punched. The deputies also kneeled on his back and neck. A grand jury declined to bring charges in the case in October 2022.

Just a few weeks before the torture of Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, former deputies Elward, Dedmon and Opdyke played a role in the assault of a White man, Alan Schmidt. Prosecutors read a statement from Mr. Schmidt detailing what happened. During a traffic stop, he was accused of possessing stolen property, pulled from his car, beaten, tased and sexually assaulted. All three former deputies pleaded guilty in federal court regarding this incident.

In recent court proceedings and documents, the attorneys of the former officers and their clients admitted the existence of the “culture of corruption” within the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department.  

“The defendants themselves, who are standing there pleading guilty, are talking about the culture of violence that they were expected to participate in,” Atty. Walker said. “Mr. Dedmon, who pled guilty (March 20), talked about how he was able to rise through the ranks because of his willingness to participate in that culture of violence and that he was able to rise because he was showing off to his higher-ups by the level of violence that he was willing to commit, and that allowed him to be promoted at a young age.” 

“There are many victims that have not been accounted for by these sentences. This was not an isolated incident. It was a cultural thing, and it was a generational thing,” he added.

The number of officers still part of “The Goon Squad” is unknown. 

“As far as we know and as far as we’re concerned, ‘The Goon Squad’ is still up and running. Most of this stuff starts from the top. We haven’t heard anything from the governor; we haven’t heard anything from the chief of police, the sheriff,” Mr. Joseph said. “So as far as we know, these tactics are still in place and still operating and going on every day.”

Message to corrupt officers

The victims’ attorneys, along with supporters and activists, argue that the recent sentencing will be a message to police officers across the country.

Atty. Shabazz  noted that Judge Lee has “sent a chilling and strong message to police officers all throughout Mississippi and all over America, that you will be held accountable when you commit rogue acts of torture and lawlessness under the color of law, that you will not escape justice and that you are actually held to a higher standard as a police officer.”

He thanked U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for the instrumental role she played.

“As a Black woman, she has stood up against Mississippi hate, Mississippi terror, Mississippi racism under the color of law,” he said. “This case is nasty. This case involved the defendants who called my clients n****** and monkeys and basically Klan-type activity in uniform. But it did not stand, and it did not stand because these clients got lawyers who are Muslims,” he said, referring to himself as a student of Dr. Khalid Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

“Imma say this on record. We don’t come to play with this devil. And they messed with the wrong folks at the wrong time,” he added.

Mr. Bridges believes the sentencing will embolden Black people to fight back the correct way and to continue standing, even when it’s inconvenient. “And I think it sends a clear message to the police and throughout the country that we’re no longer taking this,” he added. “We’re going to speak up, we’re going to tell the truth, we’re going to go through the right processes, we’re going to show up at the door and we’re going to speak and have our day in court and y’all going to jail.”

“And the same equal justice for all, that’s the only thing that’s going to be tolerated here on out,” he added.

Student Min. Abram Muhammad listed four things that need to take place to change the culture of policing, based on his career as a former police officer: When bad law enforcement officers are caught, the minimum sentencing should be the maximum; officers who know something should speak up; police departments should create an atmosphere where officers who speak up are protected from backlash; and lastly, officers should be recruited who reflect the communities they police.

Next steps

The victims and their attorneys and supporters are demanding the resignation of Rankin County Sheriff  Bryan Bailey for his role in creating the culture of corruption.

“Bailey’s coming next,” Atty. Shabazz said. He said he and Ms. Clarke both agree “that the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department needs to be taken over by the Justice Department and the federal government. 

“Nothing like this could happen if it was not the fact that the sheriff himself was either a criminal or he was criminally negligent. And so, Brian Bailey’s days in office are numbered. If he wants to stick around, then he’s going to go down,” he said.

Student Min. Abram Muhammad said the sheriff should take a strong look at accountability and the type of culture he has created. “What would make these six who were caught feel comfortable enough to believe that they could conduct  themselves in such a heinous way and be able to get away with it?” he questioned.

“The people within Rankin County would have to stress and lift up their voices as to their discourse through this whole thing. And I’m telling you, being right here, there has not been an abundance of citizens in Rankin County who have banded together to voice their disgrace of this act and call for the resignation,” he added.

The Rankin County NAACP issued a petition in August requesting the resignation of the sheriff. Branch president Angela English expressed to The Final Call her thanks for the sentencing of the six former officers before going into the challenges faced regarding the petition.

After the sheriff voiced that he would not resign, Ms. English and the NAACP then went to the Rankin County Board of Supervisors but did not receive positive results. Due to being an elected official, the sheriff cannot simply be removed from office unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as him committing a felony or via a petition with signatures representing 30 percent of the registered voters in Rankin County.

Ms. English soon discovered that many interested in signing the petition had been purged from the voter roll due to possibly missing a federal election or two.

“Once we get the correct numbers, that changes the whole thing,” Ms. English said. “There are stumbling blocks being placed down for us, but we’re not going to let that deter us. We’re going to do whatever we need to do.”

Atty. Walker said a date for the state sentencing is being finalized, but that it is expected to occur within the next four weeks. He also commented on the ongoing $400 million civil lawsuit against Rankin County, the sheriff and known members of “The Goon Squad.”

“Rankin County continues to fight the allegations that have been made against them,” he said. “Rankin County’s position has certainly not been strengthened by what’s happened. Just stay tuned,” he concluded.

“We’ll keep our eyes and ears open, because new revelations are coming out all the time, in terms of the depravity of some of these members.”

In terms of justice, Kareem Muhammad advised Black people to look at the solution and the program of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

“We want complete freedom, total and complete freedom. So just to get six White officers convicted is not justice. It’s a glimpse of justice,” he said. “We will never get total justice until we have our own court system, our own judicial system, our own judges, our own law institutions, our own flag,” he said.

“We have to recognize that if we want total justice, we have to separate and get territories or states of our own that we can govern ourselves.”