Attorney Trent Walker speaks at a public hearing Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Pilgrim Rest M.B. Church in Rankin County. He is representing Michael Corey Jenkins, who says he was shot in the mouth by a Rankin County deputy. The FBI is now investigating the deputies' arrests of both Jenkins, 32, and Eddie Terrell Parker, 35. Credit: Jerry Mitchell/Mississippi Today

A $400 million federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of two men allegedly beaten and tortured by Rankin County sheriff’s deputies during what attorneys say was an unlawful arrest earlier this year says the department has a pattern of excessive force against Black people. 

The 14-count lawsuit details the night of Jan. 24 when six white deputies conducting a drug investigation raided the Braxton residence where Michael Corey Jenkins, 32, and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker, 35, were living. What followed was 90 minutes of unlawful imprisonment and unjustified torture while the men were handcuffed, according to the lawsuit. 

The height of the alleged mistreatment came when a deputy placed his service weapon inside Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger, leading to a broken jaw and lacerated tongue. Jenkins’ family and attorneys said the injuries nearly killed him. 

“This lawsuit here is all about punitive damages. These acts are egregious and worthy of punishment,” said Jenkins’ attorney, Malik Shabazz, during a Monday morning news conference. 

“Why punitive damages? Why punish? Because we don’t want this to happen again,” he said. 

Defendants named in the lawsuit are the county, Sheriff Bryan Bailey, and deputies Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon and three unknown deputies. 

The lawsuit details the men’s experience: racial slurs allegedly hurled by the deputies, waterboarding, attempted sexual assault and threats of death by having guns pointed at them.  

A spokesperson from the sheriff’s department and an attorney representing the department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. 

At the news conference, Jenkins and Parker declined comment due to pending civil action, but they did thank people and family for their support.  

Elward is identified in the lawsuit as the deputy who placed a gun inside Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger. As a result, Jenkins has suffered permanent physical injury such as nerve damage, numbness and risk of losing his eyesight. 

“The acts described herein, committed under the color of law, set the standard of what is wrong with policing today in America,” the lawsuit states. 

During the news conference, Shabazz showed several pictures of evidence from the scene and of the injuries Jenkins and Parker faced, including taser marks on Parker’s body. 

None of the deputies intervened or tried to stop each other from hurting Jenkins and Parker during the nearly two-hour encounter, the lawsuit alleges. 

The deputies did not show a search warrant or announce themselves, nor were drugs or a firearm alleged to have been pointed at a deputy were found at the scene, Shabazz said. Nonetheless, charges were filed against Jenkins and Parker, according to the lawsuit. 

As of Monday, Shabazz said he has no information whether the deputies have been suspended or reprimanded. 

The lawsuit also mentions other uses of excessive force by Rankin County sheriff’s deputies and holds Sheriff Bailey responsible for failing to properly train the deputies involved in those incidents, including the 2019 death of 31-year-old Pierre Woods in Pelahatchie and the 2021 death of Damien Cameron in Braxton. 

Rankin County is accused of acting with reckless and deliberate indifference to the rights and liberties of Jenkins and Parker, who are county residents, according to the lawsuit. 

Shabazz said the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which took over the case earlier in the year, has completed its investigation and it is now up to the attorney general’s office whether to prosecute the sheriff’s deputies. 

The lawsuit comes months after the FBI, U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi opened a civil rights investigation into the incident. 

In May, Shabazz asked the DOJ to prosecute the deputies on charges of hate crimes and other civil rights violations. 

This month, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke visited Mississippi and made several stops, including at Jackson State University, where she heard from Jenkins’ mother and Parker during a public forum, according to the men’s attorneys. 

Supporters of Jenkins and Parker have demonstrated at the sheriff’s department and, on Saturday, gathered at a Brandon church for a public hearing about police brutality in Rankin County.

At hearing, attorney Trent Walker, who is also representing Michael Corey Jenkins, urged citizens to share their experiences with Rankin County deputies. “It’s past time that we do something,” he said.

If nothing is done, more people will be shot, he predicted.

“Ain’t nobody coming into our neighborhood,” activist Marqwell Bridges told the crowd. “We’ve got to save ourselves.”

Several residents at the hearing urged Black residents to buy guns for self-defense. Both Kenneth Jackson and Angela Green spoke in favor of buying guns and getting trained on how to use them.

“Most of my life, I didn’t have a gun,” Green said. “Every Black person should own a gun. Yes, I have an AR-15, and I’m ready to use it. Come to my door, and you’ll know I have it.”

Mississippi Today investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell contributed to this report.

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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.