6 ex-officers, some of whom called themselves ‘The Goon Squad,’ plead guilty in torture of 2 Black men

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Six former Mississippi law enforcement officers pleaded guilty Monday to all state charges against them stemming from the torture and abuse this year of two Black men, one of whom was shot in the mouth.

Their pleas Monday came after the former officers – five of them deputies for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, the sixth an officer for the Richland Police Department – pleaded guilty this month to federal charges in connection to the same January incident, which the victims have claimed was motivated by their race.

Former deputies Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke and ex-police officer Joshua Hartfield were each charged with conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, according to a news release from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

Additionally, Dedmon was charged with home invasion and Elward was charged with home invasion and aggravated assault, the release says. McAlpin, Middleton, Opdyke and Hartfield each faced an additional charge of first-degree obstruction of justice.

All six appeared with their attorneys in Rankin County court Monday, shackled at the wrists and wearing prison jumpsuits. The names of the county jails in which they are being held were covered by duct tape.

The former officers pleaded guilty August 3 to federal charges in the case, in which US prosecutors said the former officers kicked down the door of a home in Braxton, Mississippi, where the Black men were living and assaulted them for two hours.

The officers did not have a warrant, and some “called themselves ‘The Goon Squad’ because of their willingness to use excessive force and not to report it,” according to a federal charging document.

The six officers were charged with a combined 13 felonies in connection with “the torture and physical abuse” of the two men that night, the Justice Department said in a news release.

CNN has reached out to attorneys for each of the men for comment but did not receive a response from those representing McAlpin and Dedmon. Attorneys for Middleton, Elward and Hartfield declined to comment.

An attorney for Opdyke said the former officer “has admitted to his wrongdoing” and will plead guilty to all charges against him in Rankin County Circuit Court on August 14.

“He takes responsibility for his part in the horrific harms perpetrated on Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, the victims, and is prepared to face the consequences of his misconduct,” reads a statement to CNN from Opdyke’s attorney, Jeffery Reynolds.

Michael Jenkins, left, and Eddie Parker alleged in a lawsuit the ex-officers' conduct was motivated by the color of their skin.

The victims, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, filed a federal lawsuit in June, alleging the officers illegally entered their home and handcuffed, kicked, waterboarded and tased them and attempted to sexually assault them over nearly two hours, before one of the deputies put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and shot him.

The deputies, “in their repeated use of racial slurs in the course of their violent acts, were oppressive and hateful against their African-American victims,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants were motivated on the basis of race and the color of the skin of the persons they assaulted.”

Parker enjoyed seeing the “walk of shame” during the plea hearing Monday, he told reporters afterward.

“I hope this is a lesson to everybody out there. Justice will be served.”

Michael Corey Jenkins, center, and Eddie Terrell Parker, right, listen as one of six former Mississippi law officers pleads guilty to state charges at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Mississippi.

According to a federal charging document, Dedmon texted Elward, Middleton and Opdyke on January 24 about going to the property in Braxton to resolve a complaint received by McAlpin. McAlpin’s White neighbor told him several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home and reported seeing suspicious behavior.

Dedmon warned the deputies there might be surveillance cameras on the property, telling them to knock on the door instead of kicking it down if they saw any, the document stated. Otherwise, they could barge in without a warrant, the document continued.

“No bad mug shots,” he said, meaning, prosecutors said, the defendants could use excessive force on parts of the body that would not be seen in a mug shot, according to the charging document. Dedmon told the others Hartfield would accompany them.

Avoiding a surveillance camera above the front door, Dedmon, Opdyke and Elward broke open the carport door while Hartfield kicked open the back door, the document stated. They encountered Parker, who was living there to help take care of the woman who owned the property, and his friend Jenkins, who was staying there temporarily.

Over the next two hours, the two men were subjected to grueling violence at the hands of the White officers, the document said. They were repeatedly tased and called racial slurs, and the officers poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup in their mouths. Elward threw eggs at the men, and Dedmon poured grease on Parker’s head, according to the document.

Eventually, Elward removed a bullet from his gun, forced Jenkins onto his knees and put the gun into his mouth, the document stated. Elward fired the gun, which did not discharge, then racked the slide, put the gun back in Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger again, according to the document. The bullet lacerated Jenkins’ tongue, broke his jaw and went out through his neck.

According to the charging document, the officers then devised a cover story and discussed planting a gun Middleton had in his patrol car on Jenkins. Instead, Elward planted a BB gun, and the officers discarded one shell casing, the document stated. Hartfield threw the men’s soiled clothes in the woods and took the hard drive from the home’s surveillance system before throwing it in a creek, according to the document.

Activists march towards the Rankin County Sheriff's Office in Brandon, Mississippi, on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, after five former deputies and one former Richland police officer were accused of assaulting two Black men.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey announced in June deputies had been fired, though he did not say how many or their names. The Richland Police Department announced in July that Hartfield – who was off-duty at the time of the alleged assault – had resigned.

Bailey, who does not face any charges, has said he will not resign. In a statement Monday, he said he hoped the “guilty pleas bring some sense of justice” to Parker and Jenkins.

“The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office continues to evaluate and modify its policies, procedures, and training for all sheriff’s office employees,” Bailey said. “We have asked for assistance from outside agencies and contracted with outside firms to evaluate us, make recommendations, and conduct training. These actions are taken to prevent anything like January’s tragedy from ever happening again.”

Bailey is running unopposed for reelection in November.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect date for when the officers entered guilty pleas to federal charges. It was August 3.

Sumber: www.cnn.com

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