6 Ex-Officers Who Pleaded Guilty In ‘Goon Squad’ Torture Of 2 Black Men Sentenced In State Court

Attorney Malik Shabazz, center, speaks outside the federal courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, after a sentencing hearing in March as his client, Michael Jenkins, listens. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP via CNN Newsource)

By Emma Tucker, Ryan Young, Devon M. Sayers and Holly Yan, CNN

Brandon, Mississippi (CNN) — Six former Mississippi law enforcement officers who abused two Black men for hours were sentenced in state court Wednesday to 15 to 45 years in prison.

Their sentences will run concurrently with their federal sentences handed down last month, which range from 10 to 40 years in prison.

The ex-officers had pleaded guilty after the torture of Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker at a home in January 2023.

Five former Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies – Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke and Jeffrey Middleton – along with former Richland Police Department officer Joshua Hartfield were sentenced in a Rankin County circuit court Wednesday.

The group of White officers raided the home in Braxton without a warrant, subjected the two Black men to racist vitriol, used Tasers on them after they had already been handcuffed, beat them with various objects and one of them shot Jenkins in the mouth, prosecutors said.

Shortly before Wednesday’s sentencing, Jenkins described the horror he endured in a statement read by his attorney Malik Shabazz.

“Me and Eddie in this event were called racist names. We were called n***er, we were called monkey, we were called boy, and we were accused of dating White women,” the statement said.

“After Hunter Elward shot me, they left me to die bleeding on the floor. And they tried to set me up to be in prison,” Jenkins’ statement said. “Your honor, they killed me. I just didn’t die.”

What will happen to the former officers

Each of the ex-officers faced state charges of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.

Dedmon was also charged with home invasion, and Elward was also charged with home invasion and aggravated assault.

McAlpin, Middleton, Opdyke and Hartfield all faced an additional charge of first-degree obstruction of justice.

While all of the state sentences will run concurrently with the federal sentences, some of the ex-officers will now spend more time behind bars because of the state charges:

– Elward was sentenced in state court to 25 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal sentence of 20 years.

– Middleton was sentenced in state court to 20 years in prison, which will run concurrently with his federal sentence of 17.5 years.

– Opdyke was sentenced in state court to 20 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal sentence of 17.5 years.

– Hartfield was sentenced in state court to 15 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal sentence of 10 years.

– Dedmon was sentenced in state court to 25 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal sentence of 40 years.

– McAlpin was sentenced in state court to 20 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal sentence of just over 27 years.

Jeff Reynolds, an attorney for Opdyke, told CNN after the sentencing hearing Wednesday his client “has admitted and taken full responsibility for what wrongful actions and inactions he was guilty of that night.”

During Opdyke’s federal sentencing hearing last month, it was revealed that he was the officer who turned over the text messages from the “Goon Squad” group chat, which was on the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, to the federal government on April 12, 2023.

“The Feds themselves admitted in their downward departure motion filed in federal court that these texts played a vital role in the procurement of the guilty pleas of the other five officers,” Reynolds told CNN. “Without the texts and Daniel’s early cooperation, who knows where we would be right now? The Goon Squad might still be corruptly abusing people in Rankin County.”

Wednesday morning’s hearing took place in a circuit court that sits in the heart of the Rankin County seat of Brandon – across the street from a Confederate monument – and around 20 miles from the home where the racially charged torture of Parker and Jenkins took place.

The NAACP started a national petition to remove the 1907 monument, topped by a statue of a Confederate soldier, which they say symbolizes decades of racist culture in the county.

After the sentencing hearing, Jenkins and Parker told CNN they were satisfied with the former officers’ sentences and felt relieved this case was now over.

“I sit back and think of everything we went through – the days, the months, moving from state to state, trying to stay safe. I’m glad that it came to an end,” Parker said.

After the incident last January, Parker and Jenkins tried, for months, to tell their story – but often, no one believed them. Moving forward, Parker and Jenkins said they will embrace being a catalyst for change in Mississippi and continue to fight and be a voice for other potential victims of the “Goon Squad.”

Parker said he may have found purpose in his own fight for justice: to fight for others who can’t or are too scared to.

“I know people who are out there and still afraid to say something,” Parker said. “I’m putting it out there that anybody who is scared or needs someone to talk to – I’ll meet you where I need to meet you and make sure no one else has to go through this, where they are afraid or intimidated about anything.”

For those who don’t have a support system that can help them secure lawyers and fight for justice, Jenkins offered his own support. “I can imagine how scary that would be fighting against the police,” he said. “If you need people and y’all see this, you don’t have to be scared.”

How the abuse unfolded

The torture happened on January 24, 2023, in Braxton, just southeast of Jackson. It came to light after the two victims filed a $400 million federal lawsuit, which is still pending. Many of the claims in the lawsuit were reflected in the federal charging document.

The two men said the six law enforcement officers illegally entered the home of a woman Parker was helping to care for and where he was also living. They kicked, waterboarded and used Tasers on Jenkins and Parker and attempted to sexually assault them over nearly two hours before Elward put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and shot him.

The officers went to the home after a White neighbor reported that several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home and reported seeing suspicious behavior – but in the end the officers found no crime, prosecutors said.

At least three of them – Elward, Middleton and Opdyke – were part of a group of deputies that called themselves “The Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and not report it, federal prosecutors said in court documents.

“This brutal attack caused more than physical harm to these two individual victims; it severed that vital trust with the people,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in August when announcing the state charges. “This abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

The former officers pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice, according to court records. Elward faced the most serious of the federal charges stemming from the torture – discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence.

Justice Department attorneys described in court how Middleton boasted about the group with Rankin County Sheriff’s Department emblems branded with the words “Goon Squad,” picturing a Confederate flag and a noose.

‘We want them to clean house’

Rankin County NAACP President Angela English said this painful part of law enforcement history shouldn’t end with the sentencing of the six ex-officers.

“This chapter of the book has been written, but the book is not finished,” she said Wednesday.

English said she wants Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey removed from office.

“We have spoken with the Department of Justice. We have reiterated that we want a clean sweep,” she said.

“We want them to go throughout the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and we want them to clean house. We want them to go into the jails and reopen all of these cases that these lawless officers have created.”

Mary Jenkins, the mother of Michael Jenkins, said she’s happy the former officers received as much time as they were given.

“This has never happened in Mississippi before and now people’s eyes are open. Please don’t condone what they’re doing. Let them know you don’t want this Goon Squad representing them,” she told CNN after the hearing.

And his father, Melvin Jenkins, said he still knows several victims of police brutality in the county who won’t tell their stories out of fear of retaliation. “I’m 68 and I’ve known this stuff has been going on for years and years, and nothing has been done about it,” he said.

The sheriff’s attorney, Jason Dare, told CNN he did not plan to release a statement Wednesday.

After the Goon Squad’s crimes came to light, the sheriff’s department announced changes to its patrol policies and procedures.

Bailey said deputies and jailers have completed training from the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit, and an internal affairs investigator had been recruited to “help foster impartiality and fairness in our reviews.”

In a statement to CNN after the sentencing, an attorney for McAlpin, who was the highest-ranking officer on the scene, said the former officer “struggles with the fact that he got sentenced to more time than individuals who shot and/or beat these men.”

“He is 100% wrong for being there and not stopping it. That was his duty and he failed at it. He has acknowledged that,” said attorney Aafram Sellers.

Lasting harm to the public and other officers

Fitch, the attorney general, said state and federal authorities worked hard “to ensure justice for these victims in a horrific case of abuse.”

She said the ex-officers’ crimes have unfairly impacted the public and hard-working officers who perform their jobs with dignity.

“The actions of these six men did grave harm to these two victims, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, and violated the trust of all the citizens they swore to protect,” Fitch said in a statement Wednesday.

“These former officers also violated the trust of the other men and women who honorably wear the uniform – every one of whom will feel the repercussions of the mistrust they sowed between law enforcement and the people,” she said.

“These criminal acts make a difficult job even harder and far more dangerous. And it is left to us all to commit ourselves to repairing that damage.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Alta Spells contributed to this report.

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