Six law enforcement officers who called themselves the “Goon Squad” pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges they tortured two Black men, hurled racial slurs and used a sex toy on them before shooting one of them in the mouth.
The charges against five Rankin County Sheriff’s Department deputies and a Richland police officer followed a months-long Justice Department investigation, which found credible evidence of the attack on Michael Jenkins, 32, and Eddie Terrell Parker, 35.
On Jan. 24, during an early-morning raid, the officers broke down the door of Parker’s home in Braxton, Mississippi, without a warrant. They restrained the two men before beating, tasing and threatening them with rape. The officers shot multiple rounds into the air, threatening to kill the men, before a deputy placed his gun in Jenkins’ mouth and fired. The bullet lacerated Jenkins’ tongue, shattered his jaw and shredded his neck, nearly killing him and causing permanent injuries, according to Jenkins’ lawyers.
“To them, he wasn’t even human,” said Jenkins’ mother, Mary.
The men’s attorney, Trent Walker, said his clients “feel they’re getting justice. They feel vindicated.” At the time the allegations emerged, “there were a lot of naysayers,” he said. “This proves there is justice in Mississippi, even in Rankin County with its long history of police violence.”
At Thursday’s hearing, handcuffed officers stood with their lawyers in a semicircle before U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee, who read from a 13-count criminal information. Five deputies pleaded guilty to federal charges: Brett Morris McAlpin, 52, who served as chief investigator; Jeffrey Arwood Middleton, 45, who worked as a lieutenant; Christian Lee Dedmon, 28, who worked as a narcotics investigator; and Hunter Thomas Elward, 31, and Daniel Ready Opdyke, 27, who worked as patrol deputies. Joshua Allen Hartfield, 31, who worked as a narcotics investigator with the Richland Police Department, also pleaded guilty.
According to the criminal information filed Thursday, the white deputies handcuffed Jenkins and Parker before beating them and calling them “n—–,” “monkey” and “boy,” telling them to stay out of Rankin County and “go back to Jackson or to ‘their side’ of the Pearl River.” While deputies taunted the two men, Dedmon “repeatedly drive-stunned Jenkins with his taser,” according to the information.
When deputies discovered a dildo in the home, Opdyke forced it into the mouth of Parker and attempted to force it into the mouth of Jenkins, according to the information. Dedmon then threatened to anally rape the two men, but when he moved toward Jenkins’ backside, the deputy stopped when he noticed that Jenkins had defecated on himself, according to the information.
While Elward held the two men down, Dedmon poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup on their faces and into their mouths, and Dedmon poured cooking grease on Parker’s head, according to the information. Elward threw eggs at the men.
Officers then ordered the two men “to strip naked and shower off to wash away evidence of abuse,” according to the information. Hartfield guarded the door to make sure they didn’t escape.
Opdyke struck Parker with a wooden kitchen implement, Middleton assaulted Parker with a metal sword, and Dedmon and McAlpin smacked Parker with pieces of wood, according to the criminal information. Dedmon, Middleton, Hartfield and Elward all tased Jenkins and Parker repeatedly.
McAlpin and Middleton stole rubber bar mats, and McAlpin was “about to steal a Class A military uniform” when he heard two gunshots, according to the document.
The first gunshot was discharged by Dedmon, who fired into the yard. After removing a bullet from the chamber of his gun, Elward stuck a gun into Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked. Then he racked the slide, only this time, the gun fired a bullet, which lacerated his tongue, broke his jaw and exited through his neck.
The officers pleaded guilty to depriving the two men of their rights by neglecting Jenkins’ need for medical care, according to the information. “[They] attempted to cover up their misconduct rather than provide [Jenkins] with medical care.”
The officers also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. They attempted to cover up the shooting by planting a gun in the home and accused Jenkins of attempting to shoot at officer Elward, according to court records. They also planted methamphetamine on Jenkins and charged him with drug possession, disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer. Parker was falsely charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly conduct. The charges against the two have been dismissed. The officers then stole the hard drive from a surveillance camera system in Parker’s home and threw it in a river.
Dedmon and Elward pleaded guilty to discharging a gun in the commission of a violent crime. That carries a 10-year minimum and up to a life sentence, consecutive to any other prison time.
The other charges against the officers range between 10 and 20 years for each count.
“Based on the facts in their guilty pleas, all former deputies lied to me the night of the incident,” Sheriff Bryan Bailey said in a statement. “This incident and the crimes of these individuals has been devastating not only to the victims but also to the sheriff’s office and the hundreds of men and women that work here.”
“They became the criminals they swore to protect us from,” said U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“The defendants in this case wanted to send a message to their victims that they didn’t belong,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “They sought to dehumanize these victims.”
Deputy Attorney General Mary Helen Wall of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office said these brutal attacks “caused more than harm to the victims — it severed the trust of the people.”
Six months after the raid, the Rankin County Sheriff’s department fired five deputies they said were involved.
Jenkins and Parker alleged in their lawsuit that their torture was racially motivated because, throughout the incident, the deputies used racial slurs and accused the men of sleeping with White women.
Jenkins has moved out of the state, fearing he may face retaliation, according to his lawyers.
“The code in Rankin County is that you do not speak up,” said Jenkins’ attorney, Malik Zulu Shabazz. “We believe that there are credible threats or risks to their safety.”
The Rankin County Sheriff’s Department has faced previous lawsuits related to police misconduct, some involving the officers named in today’s indictment.
In 2021, Damien Cameron, a 29-year-old Black man, died after a confrontation with Rankin County deputies Elward and Luke Stickman. Cameron’s mother, who filed a civil lawsuit against the department, said she witnessed the officers kneel on Cameron’s neck and back, while Cameron told them he could not breathe for over 10 minutes.
A grand jury chose not to indict the officers for Cameron’s death a year before Elward shot Jenkins. “If they would have did something then, this wouldn’t have happened,” said his father, Mel Jenkins.
That same year, a man named Cory Jackson died while incarcerated at the Rankin County Jail. Jackson’s family was driving him to a hospital because he was suffering from a psychotic episode, when Jackson fled from their car. He was arrested by a Rankin County deputy and suffered injuries while in custody. He was never hospitalized and died in jail that same night.
Also Thursday, Dedmon pleaded guilty to assaulting a man identified as “A.S.” by “punching, kicking and tasing him.” Elward and Opdyke also pleaded guilty to failing to intervene.
After the guilty pleas Thursday, Walker said he had spoken “with Mr. Parker and Mr. Jenkins, and they are very grateful and appreciative of the work of the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office.”
Update: This story has been updated to include comments from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey.