NATIONAL NEWS

Deputies accused of shoving guns in mouths of 2 Black men

Mar 27, 2023, 12:00 AM

Michael Corey Jenkins stands outside Taylor Hill Church in Braxton, Miss., March 18, 2023. The poli...

Michael Corey Jenkins stands outside Taylor Hill Church in Braxton, Miss., March 18, 2023. The police shooting of Jenkins, who sustained critical injuries after he says a deputy put a gun in his mouth and fired, led the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into the Rankin County Sheriff's Office. Deputies said Jenkins was shot after he pointed a gun at them. (AP Photo/HG Biggs)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/HG Biggs)

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) — Several deputies from a Mississippi sheriff’s department being investigated by the Justice Department for possible civil rights violations have been involved in at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries, an Associated Press investigation found.

Two of the men allege that Rankin County sheriff’s deputies shoved guns into their mouths during separate encounters. In one case, the deputy pulled the trigger, leaving the man with wounds that required parts of his tongue to be sewn back together. In one of the two fatal confrontations, the man’s mother said a deputy kneeled on her son’s neck while he told them he couldn’t breathe.

Police and court records obtained by the AP show that several deputies who were accepted to the sheriff’s office’s Special Response Team — a tactical unit whose members receive advanced training — were involved in each of the four encounters. In three of them, the heavily redacted documents don’t indicate if they were serving in their normal capacity as deputies or as members of the unit.

Such units have drawn scrutiny since the January killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black father who died days after being severely beaten by Black members of a special police team in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols’ death George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In Mississippi, the police shooting of Michael Corey Jenkins led the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. Jenkins said six white deputies burst into a home where he was visiting a friend, and one put a gun in his mouth and fired. Jenkins’ hospital records, parts of which he shared with AP, show he had a lacerated tongue and broken jaw.

Deputies said Jenkins was shot after he pointed a gun at them; department officials have not answered multiple inquiries from the AP asking whether a weapon was found at the scene. Jenkins’ attorney, Malik Shabazz, said his client didn’t have a gun.

“They had complete control of him the entire time. Six officers had full and complete control of Michael the entire time,” Shabazz said. “So that’s just a fabrication.”

Rankin County, which has about 120 sheriff’s deputies serving its roughly 160,000 people, is predominantly white and just east of the state capital, Jackson, home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city. In the county seat of Brandon, a towering granite-and-marble monument topped by a statue of a Confederate soldier stands across the street from the sheriff’s office.

In a notice of an upcoming lawsuit, attorneys for Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker said on the night of Jan. 24 the deputies suddenly came into the home and proceeded to handcuff and beat them. They said the deputies stunned them with Tasers repeatedly over roughly 90 minutes and, at one point, forced them to lie on their backs as the deputies poured milk over their faces. The men restated the allegations in separate interviews with the AP.

When a Taser is used, it’s automatically logged into the device’s memory. The AP obtained the automated Taser records from the evening of Jan. 24. They show that deputies first fired one of the stun guns at 10:04 p.m. and fired one at least three more times over the next 65 minutes. However, those unredacted records might not paint a complete picture, as redacted records show that Tasers were turned on, turned off or used dozens more times during that period.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was brought in to investigate the encounter. Its summary says a deputy shot Jenkins at approximately 11:45 p.m., or about 90 minutes after a Taser was first used, which matches the timeframe given by Parker and Jenkins. The deputy’s name was not disclosed by the bureau.

Police say the raid was prompted by a report of drug activity at the home. Jenkins was charged with possessing between 2 and 10 grams of methamphetamine and aggravated assault on a police officer. Parker was charged with two misdemeanors — possession of paraphernalia and disorderly conduct. Jenkins and Parker say the raid came to a head when the deputy shot Jenkins through the mouth. He still has difficulty speaking and eating.

Another Black man, 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. Johnson was not shot.

There is no reason for an officer to place a gun in a suspect’s mouth, and to have allegations of two such incidents is telling, said Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska.

“If there are incidents with the same kind of pattern of behavior, they have their own set of rules,” he said. “So these are not just chance experiences. It looks like a very clear pattern.”

Jenkins doesn’t know the name of the deputy who shot him. In the heavily redacted incident report, an unidentified deputy wrote, “I noticed a gun.” The unredacted sections don’t say who shot Jenkins, only that he was taken to a hospital. Deputy Hunter Elward swore in a separate court document that Jenkins pointed the gun at him.

Elward’s name also appears in police reports and court records from the two incidents in which suspects were killed.

The sheriff’s department refused repeated interview requests and denied access to any of the deputies who were involved in the violent confrontations. The department has not said whether deputies presented a search warrant, and it’s unclear if any have been disciplined or are still members of the special unit.

The news outlet Insider has been investigating the sheriff’s department and persuaded a county judge to order the sheriff to turn over documents related to the deaths of four men in 2021. Chancery Judge Troy Farrell Odom expressed bewilderment that the department had refused to make the documents public.

“(The) day that our law enforcement officers start shielding this information from the public, all the while repeating, ‘Trust us. We’re from the government,’ is the day that should startle all Americans,” Odom wrote.

The AP requested body camera or dashcam footage from the night of the Jenkins raid. Jason Dare, an attorney for the sheriff’s department, said there was no record of either.

Mississippi doesn’t require police officers to wear body cameras. Incident reports and court records tie deputies from the raid to three other violent encounters with Black men.

During a 2019 standoff, Elward said Pierre Woods pointed a gun at him while running at deputies. Deputies then shot and killed him. In a statement to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation obtained by the AP, Elward said he fired at Woods eight times. Police say they recovered a handgun at the scene of the Woods shooting.

Court records place Christian Dedmon, another deputy who shot at Woods, at the Jenkins raid.

Dedmon was also among deputies involved in a 2019 arrest of Johnson, according to the lawsuit Johnson filed alleging that one of the deputies put a gun in his mouth as they searched him for drugs. Johnson is currently imprisoned for selling methamphetamine.

Other documents obtained by the AP detail another violent confrontation between Elward and Damien Cameron, a 29-year-old man with a history of mental illness. He died in July 2021 after being arrested by Elward and Deputy Luke Stickman, who also opened fire on Woods during the 2019 standoff. A grand jury declined to bring charges in the case last October.

In an incident report, Elward wrote that while responding to a vandalism call, he repeatedly shocked Cameron with a Taser, punched and grappled with Cameron at the home of his mother, Monica Lee. He said after getting Cameron to his squad car, he again stunned him to get him to pull his legs into the vehicle.

After going back inside to retrieve his Taser, deputies returned to find Cameron unresponsive. Elward wrote that he pulled Cameron from the car and performed CPR, but Cameron was later declared dead at a hospital.

Lee, who witnessed the confrontation, told the AP that after subduing her son, Elward kneeled on his back for several minutes. She said when Stickman arrived, he kneeled on her son’s neck while handcuffing him, and that her son complained he couldn’t breathe.

Lee said she later went outside, hoping to talk to her son before the deputies drove him away.

“I walked outside to tell him goodbye and that I loved him, and that I would try to see him the next day. That’s when I noticed they were on the driver’s side of the car doing CPR on him,” Lee said. “I fell to the ground screaming and hollering.”

___

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 on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

National News

Associated Press

Cause of crash that killed NY couple at Niagara Falls border crossing still a mystery 8 months later

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — A police investigation into the crash and explosion that killed two people in a high-powered luxury car at a Niagara Falls border crossing last year has concluded with the crash’s cause still a mystery, authorities said. The probe into the Nov. 22, 2023, crash that killed Kurt and Monica Villani, […]

1 hour ago

FILE - A long row of unsold 2021 X3 sports-utility vehicles sits at a BMW dealership Sunday, March ...

Associated Press

BMW recalls over 291,000 SUVs because interior cargo rails can detach in crash, raising injury risk

DETROIT (AP) — BMW is recalling more than 291,000 SUVs in the U.S. because the interior cargo rails can detach in a crash, increasing the risk of injury. The recall covers certain X3 SUVs from the 2018 through 2023 model years. The company says in documents posted by U.S. safety regulators that dealers will replace […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Authorities identify victims of fatal plane crash near the site of an air show in Wisconsin

NEKIMI, Wis. (AP) — A Pennsylvania man and a man from New York have been preliminarily identified as the victims of a fatal plane crash near the site of an airshow in eastern Wisconsin. The bodies of Sean Tommervik, 37, of Philadelphia, and James G. Sullivan, 32, of Brooklyn, were found Monday in the wreckage […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Fake protest set for TV shoot on NYC campus sparks real demonstration by pro-Palestinian activists

NEW YORK (AP) — A fake protest encampment set up for a TV shoot on a New York City college campus sparked a real reaction from pro-Palestinian activists, who organized their own demonstration against the filming, a newspaper reported Wednesday. The scenario unfolded Monday and Tuesday at Queens College, where the CBS drama “FBI: Most […]

2 hours ago

Lear production worker Abigail Fletcher rides her mini bike in support of the picket line as member...

Associated Press

Strike at plant that makes truck seats forces production stoppage for Missouri General Motors

Production has halted at a Missouri General Motors plant that manufactures trucks and vans, the result of a strike at the company that supplies seats for the vehicles. About 480 workers at Lear Corp. in Wentzville walked out at midnight Sunday. The strike brought production to a standstill Monday at the GM plant in Wentzville, […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears speaks at a press conference announcing that Raymond Ron...

Associated Press

Mistrial declared in case of Indiana man accused of fatally shooting five, including pregnant woman

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial in the case of an Indianapolis man accused of fatally shooting five people, including a pregnant woman, after a witness verbally confronted the defendant in front of the jury. Marion County Superior Judge Chris Miller declared the mistrial Tuesday in the trial of Raymond Ronald Lee Childs […]

2 hours ago

Deputies accused of shoving guns in mouths of 2 Black men