Six white former law enforcement officers pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution in their torturing of two Black men as part of a “Goon Squad” operation aimed at getting African Americans to “go back” to the predominantly Black city of Jackson.
“To my knowledge,” said Trent Walker, the attorney for the two men, “never in the history of Mississippi have, in particular, white officers been held to account for brutality against Black victims.”
On the evening of Jan. 24, five Rankin County deputies and a Richland police officer beat and tortured the handcuffed Black men, Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins, hurled racial slurs at them, accused them of “taking advantage” of the white female homeowner and warned them to stay out of Rankin County.
On Monday, Parker and Jenkins sat in a Rankin County courthouse and watched as the former law enforcement officers pleaded guilty. Afterward, Parker said, “I hope this is a lesson to everybody out there. Justice will be served.”
They included former patrol deputy Hunter Elward, who shot Jenkins in the mouth, Brett McAlpin, who served as chief investigator for the sheriff’s office, Lt. Jeffrey Middleton, who supervised the “Goon Squad” shift, Christian Dedmon, who served as a narcotics investigator, Daniel Opdyke, who served as a patrol deputy, Josh Hartfield, who served as narcotics investigator for Richland Police Department.
Prosecution recommendations included these sentences: Elward, 15 years in prison; Dedmon, 10 years; McAlpin and Middleton, eight years; Opdyke and Hartfield, five years. No date has been set for their sentencings.
The officers previously pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges related to the beating, torture, unwarranted search and coverup. Sentencing hearings are set for mid-November.
On the evening of Jan. 24, a white neighbor informed McAlpin that “several Black males” were living in the home of a white woman in the neighborhood. According to the criminal information, the neighbor claimed he had seen “suspicious behavior” in the home.
McAplin ordered Dedmon to investigate. Dedmon texted fellow members of the Goon Squad, nicknamed because of the group’s willingness to beat people up during arrests.
“Are y’all available for a mission?” Dedmon texted, warning the officers that they might have to “work easy”— knocking on the men’s door instead of kicking it down — because the home was equipped with security cameras. Patrol deputy Daniel Opdyke texted back a gif of a baby crying.
Dedmon texted “no bad mugshots” signaling that they should beat the men on parts of their body that wouldn’t show up in a mugshot, according to the criminal information.
Officers crept onto the property, surrounding the doors at the side and the back of the house, which lacked security cameras. Then, without a warrant, they kicked the doors down.
The officers shouted orders that the two men complied with, according to the criminal information. Dedmon handcuffed them and — without seeing any evidence of a crime — began to tase them repeatedly. Opdyke kicked Parker in the ribs.
Officer Dedmon asked the men where their drugs were. When Parker and Jenkins replied that they didn’t have drugs, Dedmon shot a bullet into the wall, demanding that they confess.
The officers accused the two men of taking advantage of the white woman who owned the home, according to the criminal information, calling them “n—–,” “monkey” and “boy.”
When the officers searched the home, Opdyke found a dildo in one of the bedrooms, which he gave to Dedmon, who used it to slap the men. Dedmon stuck the sex toy in their mouths and turned Jenkins on his back threatening to anally rape him with it. Dedmon only stopped when he noticed Jenkins had defecated on himself.
Dedmon then began to taunt the men, pouring milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup onto their faces and into their mouths. He poured cooking grease on Parker’s head, while Elward threw eggs at the men.
Jenkins and Parker were forced to strip naked, shower and change their clothes to destroy evidence of the abuse.
Then the two men were beaten with objects around the home — a piece of wood, a kitchen utensil, a metal sword — and tased repeatedly.
McAlpin and Lt. Jeffrey Middleton, who supervised the Goon Squad, stole two rubber bar mats from the home and were about to take a Class A military uniform, when they heard shots ring out, according to the federal criminal information.
The first shot was fired by Dedmon into the yard. The second was fired by Elward, who meant to perform a mock execution, secretly removing a bullet from the chamber of his service pistol before “dry firing” into Jenkin’s mouth. He tried to repeat the intimidation tactic, but this time the weapon fired, tearing a bullet through Jenkin’s tongue and jaw.
Without providing medical attention to Jenkins, who was bleeding on the floor, the officers devised an elaborate cover up. Middleton planted a “throw down” gun he kept in his car in the home, and Dedmon took meth from a previous drug bust, which he neglected to enter into evidence, and later submitted it to the crime, stating that it belonged to Jenkins.
The officers disposed of any shell casings they could find and threw the men’s clothes into the woods behind the house. They stole the hard drive from the home’s surveillance system and later threw it in a creek in Florence. McAlpin and Middleton, the two highest ranking officers, threatened to kill the other deputies if they said a word, according to court records.
Jenkins was taken to the hospital and received life-saving surgeries. He was charged with disorderly conduct, assaulting an officer and drug possession. Parker was taken to jail and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly conduct. All charges were later dismissed.
Elward signed an affidavit, claiming Jenkins had shot at him and the other officers filed false police reports and lied to investigators from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to back up Elward’s claims.
Under their federal convictions, Dedmon and Elward each face up to 120 years in prison, plus a life sentence. Opdyke faces up to 100 years; McAlpin, up to 90 years; Hartfield and Middleton, up to 80 years each.
Seth W. Stoughton, law enforcement expert and professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, called the acts “reminiscent of the most blatant racist abuses by police in the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era. This was a lynch mob of officers, pure and simple.”
The environment enabled the Goon Squad to operate, he said. “An investigator knew exactly who to call, and they knew exactly how to communicate to do something like this,” he said. “That’s not spontaneous, it’s the result of the tacit or explicit approval of the supervisors and agency.”
But Sheriff Bryan Bailey, who arrived at the scene an hour and a half after the officers were first dispatched, told reporters that the deputies lied to him.
“I am sick to my stomach,” he told reporters. “I have tried to build a reputation, tried to have a safe county. They have robbed me of all of this.”
Jenkins’ mother, Mary, said the officers “feel comfortable telling the same lie over and over again.”
UPDATE 8/14,2023: This story has been updated to include additional comments.