UNITED STATES NEWS

Mississippi ‘Goon Squad’ deputies get yearslong sentences for racist torture of 2 Black men

Mar 18, 2024, 9:38 PM | Updated: Mar 19, 2024, 7:48 pm

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker sat on the front row of a packed courtroom Tuesday and watched as a federal judge handed down yearslong sentences to two of the white former Mississippi law enforcement officers who tortured the two Black men last year in a brutal attack that began on the basis of race.

After a neighbor complained about them staying in a white woman’s home, the Black men were tortured by people who had sworn an oath to serve and protect them.

Hunter Elward, 31, was sentenced to about 20 years in prison, while Jeffrey Middleton, the 46-year-old leader of the so-called “Goon Squad” that abused the men, was given a 17.5-year prison sentence. Four other former law enforcement officers who admitted to torturing Jenkins and Parker are set to be sentenced later this week — two on Wednesday and two on Thursday.

Before sentencing Elward and Middleton separately, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee called the former deputies’ actions “egregious and despicable” and said a “sentence at the top of the guidelines range” was justified.

The terror began on Jan. 24, 2023, with a racist call for extrajudicial violence when a white person phoned Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman in Braxton. McAlpin told Deputy Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies so willing to use excessive force they called themselves “The Goon Squad.”

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.

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 Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth, they devised a coverup that included planting drugs and a gun. False charges stood against Jenkins and Parker for months.

Prosecutors said Middleton told the other officers they had to stay quiet and that he “didn’t have a problem killing somebody.”

Last March, 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.

Jenkins suffered a lacerated tongue and broken jaw. He is a musician, and his injuries have prevented him from singing as he used to. He also said he has trouble speaking and eating. Parker said he relives the episode in his nightmares.

Both victims had called for the “stiffest of sentences.” Their attorney, Malik Shabazz, said they were too traumatized to speak in court, and he read statements on their behalf.

“I am hurt. I am broken,” Jenkins wrote in his statement. “They tried to take my manhood from me. They did some unimaginable things to me, and the effects will linger for the rest of my life.”

Elward said before being sentenced that he wouldn’t make excuses. He turned to address Jenkins and Parker and looked at them directly.

“I don’t want to get too personal. I see you every night, and I can’t go back and do what’s right,” Elward said. “I am so sorry for what I did.”

Parker then stood up and said, “I forgive you.”

Elward’s attorney, Joe Hollomon, said his client first witnessed Rankin County deputies turn a blind eye to misconduct in 2017 and that he had been “initiated into a culture of corruption at the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office.”

Middleton’s lawyer, Carlos Tanner, urged the judge to give his client a shorter sentence, saying Middleton had committed fewer violent acts.

In his apology, Middleton said he tarnished the reputations of Rankin County, law enforcement and his family.

“I will never forgive myself for failing to protect innocent victims and my family,” Middleton said.

When Middleton spoke, he did not look at the victims or their families.

Lee disagreed with Tanner, pointing to statements from Elward and another co-defendant, Daniel Opdyke.

Opdyke submitted a memorandum to the court saying that his “downfall” was the day Middleton, who was a lieutenant, took an interest in him and inserted him into the Goon Squad. The judge also said Elward, like Opdyke, traced his own involvement in the 2023 attack to Middleton and McAlpin and a “culture of violence” perpetuated by the Goon Squad.

“It may be true that you had less hands-on involvement in the torture of Mr. Parker and Mr. Jenkins,” Lee told Middleton. “But, there’s no doubt that you and McAlpin are at least as culpable as any of your co-defendants for the attacks on these victims.”

Elward was also sentenced for his role in an assault on a white man that took place weeks before Jenkins and Parker were tortured. For the first time Tuesday, prosecutors identified the victim as Alan Schmidt and read a statement from him detailing what happened to him on Dec. 4, 2022.

During a traffic stop that night, Schmidt said Rankin County deputies accused him of possessing stolen property. They pulled him from the car and beat him. Then, Dedmon forced him to his knees and tried to insert his genitals into Schmidt’s mouth, as Elward watched.

“I pray every day that I can forgive them one day and hopefully forget the humiliation and the evil physical and sexual assault that I endured,” Schmidt wrote. “I know that I’m not their only victim, and I pray for each victim that has crossed paths with the Goon Squad members.”

The officers charged with torturing Parker and Jenkins include Elward, Middleton, McAlpin, Dedmon and Opdyke of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office and Joshua Hartfield, a Richland police officer. They have pleaded guilty to numerous federal and state charges.

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.

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.

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Associated Press reporter Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson contributed to this report.

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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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Mississippi ‘Goon Squad’ deputies get yearslong sentences for racist torture of 2 Black men