How rogue Mississippi officers tried to cover up their torture of 2 Black men
Aug 4, 2023, 4:24 AM
(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Men who had sworn an oath to protect and serve were huddled on the back porch of a Mississippi home as Michael Corey Jenkins lay on the floor, blood gushing from his mutilated tongue where one of the police officers shoved a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The roughly 90-minute period of terror preceding the shooting began late on Jan. 24 after a white neighbor called Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman inside a Braxton home.
McAlpin tipped off Deputy Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies who called themselves “The Goon Squad,” a moniker they adopted because of their willingness to use excessive force.
“Are y’all available for a mission?” Dedmon asked. They were.
A little more than six months after the racist attack on Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker, six former officers pleaded guilty on Thursday.
The officers included Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and Joshua Hartfield, a Richland police officer. Their attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
They pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy against rights, obstructions of justice, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm under a crime of violence, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The Mississippi attorney general’s office announced Thursday it had filed state charges against the men including assault, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Federal court records detail how they burst into a home without a warrant, handcuffed Jenkins and Parker, assaulted them with a sex toy and beat Parker with wood and a metal sword. They poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces and then forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess.
Then one of them put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and fired.
As Jenkins lay bleeding, they didn’t render medical aid. They knew the mission had gone too far and devised a hasty cover-up scheme that included a fictitious narcotics bust, a planted gun and drugs, stolen surveillance footage and threats.
The deputies were under the watch of Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, who called it the worst episode of police brutality he has seen in his career.
Law enforcement misconduct in the U.S. has come under increased scrutiny, largely focused on how Black people are treated by the police. The 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police ignited calls for sweeping criminal justice reforms and a reassessment of American race relations. The January beating death of Tyre Nichols by five Black members of a special police squad in Memphis, Tennessee, led to a probe of similar units nationwide.
In Rankin County, the brutality visited upon Jenkins and Parker was not a botched police operation, but an assembly of rogue officers “who tortured them all under the authority of a badge, which they disgraced,” U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca said.
The 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. A towering granite-and-marble monument topped by a Confederate soldier stands across the street from the Rankin County sheriff’s office.
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.
Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the trauma “is magnified because the misconduct was fueled by racial bias and hatred.” She mentioned another dark chapter in Mississippi law enforcement: the 1964 kidnapping and killing of three civil rights workers.
The violent police misconduct is a reminder “there is still much to be done,” Clarke said.
After Dedmon summoned “The Goon Squad,” the officers crept around the ranch-style home to avoid a surveillance camera. They kicked down the carport door and burst inside without a warrant.
Opdyke found a sex toy, which he mounted on a BB gun he also found, and forced into Parker’s mouth. Dedmon tried to sexually assault Jenkins with the toy. The officers repeatedly electrocuted the victims with stun guns to compare whose weapons were more powerful.
Elward forced Jenkins to his knees for a “mock execution” by firing without a bullet, but the gun discharged. The bullet lacerated Jenkins’ tongue and broke his jaw before exiting his neck.
As Jenkins bled on the floor, the officers devised a cover story for investigators: Elward brought Jenkins into a side room to conduct a staged drug bust over the phone and Jenkins reached for a gun when he was released from handcuffs.
Middleton offered to plant an unregistered firearm, but Elward said he would use the BB gun. Dedmon volunteered to plant methamphetamine he had received from an informant. Jenkins was charged with a felony as a result, but the charges were later dropped.
Opdyke put one of Elward’s shell casings in a water bottle and threw it into tall grass nearby. Hartfield removed the hard drive from the home’s surveillance system and later tossed it in a creek.
Afterward, McAlpin and Middleton made a promise: They would kill any of the officers who told the truth about what happened.
They kept quiet for months as pressure mounted from a Justice Department civil rights probe. An investigation by The Associated Press also 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.
One of the officers came forward in June, Bailey said.
Bailey on Thursday said he was lied to and first learned everything that happened to Jenkins and Parker when he read unsealed court documents. Some of the deputies, including McAlpin and Elward, had worked under Bailey for years and been sued several times for alleged misconduct.
The sheriff promised to implement a new body camera policy and said he was open to more federal oversight. He also called the officers “criminals,” echoing federal prosecutors.
“Now, they’ll be treated as the criminals they are,” U.S. Attorney LaMarca said.
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.
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.