BRANDON, Miss. (AP) — Six white former Mississippi law officers are expected to plead guilty to state charges on Monday for torturing two Black men in a racist assault after recently admitting their guilt in a connected federal civil rights case.
Prosecutors say some of the officers nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and cover it up, including the attack that ended with a victim shot in the mouth.
In January, the officers entered a house without a warrant and handcuffed and assaulted the two men with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects. The officers mocked them with racial slurs throughout the 90-minute torture session. They then devised a cover-up that included planting drugs and a gun on one of the men, which could have sent him to prison for years.
The officers are expected to plead guilty to state charges including home invasion, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to hinder prosecution, as well as aggravated assault for the officer who pulled the trigger.
Each of the men reached individual plea agreements that include prison sentences ranging from five to 30 years, court records show. Time served for the state charges will run concurrently with the sentences they are scheduled to receive in federal court in November following their pleas on Aug. 3.
The men include five former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies including Brett McAlpin, Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke, and a police officer from the city of Richland, Joshua Hartfield.
Elward admitted he shoved a gun into Jenkins’s mouth and pulled the trigger in a “mock execution” that went awry.
After the brazen acts of police violence in Rankin County came to light, some residents pointed to a police culture they said gave officers carte blanche to abuse their power.
The civil rights charges followed an investigation by The Associated Press linking some of the officers to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019, which left two dead and another with lasting injuries. The Justice Department launched a civil rights probe into the case in February.
Rankin County’s majority-white suburbs have been one of several destinations for white flight out of the capital, Jackson, which is home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city.
The officers warned Jenkins and Parker to “go back to Jackson or ‘their side’ of the Pearl River,” the documents say.
The two victims, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, were targeted because a white neighbor complained that two Black men were staying at the home with a white woman, court documents show.
Parker was a childhood friend of the homeowner, Kristi Walley. She’s been paralyzed since she was 15, and Parker was helping care for her.
“He’s a blessing. Every time I’ve needed him he’s been here,” Walley said in a February interview. “There were times I’ve been living here by myself and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Parker and Jenkins have left Mississippi and aren’t sure they will ever return to the state for an extended period. They took solace that at least one part of the justice system appears to have worked.
“With a little fight, with a lot of fight, you can come out with the truth,” Parker said a day after the guilty pleas were announced. “And the truth always prevails over any lie or story you make up.”
Jenkins still has difficulty speaking because of his injuries. The gunshot lacerated his tongue and broke his jaw before exiting his neck.
“As far as justice, I knew we were going to get it,” Jenkins said. “But I thought it was maybe going to take longer.”
Kristen Clarke, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said they fomented distrust within the community they were supposed to serve. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said the abuse of power would not be tolerated.
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.