Six former Mississippi police officers – who are white – pleaded guilty to 16 felonies “stemming from the torture and physical abuse” of two Black men.
Among the felonies are civil rights conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, and conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, according to the Department of Justice. The ex-officers pleaded guilty to all 16 charges against them.
Five of the defendants are from Rankin County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO), Chief Investigator Brett McAlpin, Narcotics Investigator Christian Dedmon, Lieutenant Jeffrey Middleton, Deputy Hunter Elward, and Deputy Daniel Opdyke, while one is from the Richland Police Department, Narcotics Investigator Joshua Hartfield.
According to the Department of Justice’s release, the officers admitted kicking in a door and entering a home belonging to two Black men – Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker on 24 January – without a warrant.
Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker were handcuffed and arrested – without probable cause to believe they had committed any crime. The officers “called them racial slurs, and warned them to stay out of Rankin County,” according to the release.
The officers “punched and kicked the men, tased them 17 times, forced them to ingest liquids, and assaulted them with a dildo.” Rankin County Narcotics Investigator Christian Dedmon fired his gun twice throughout the tortuous encounter to intimidate the men.
At one point, Rankin County Deputy Elward removed a bullet from the chamber of his gun and forced the gun into Mr Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger, the release stated. The unloaded gun didn’t fire, but it did click. “Intending to dry-fire a second time,” Elward pulled the trigger, and this time the gun discharged. The bullet “lacerated” the man’s tongue and broke his jaw.
The officers did not provide medical aid to the man bleeding on the floor – even after a bullet just exited from his neck. Instead, the officers convened outside the house to concoct a “false cover story and took steps to corroborate it.”
They planned, according to the release, to plant the gun on Jenkins, to destroy the surveillance footage, the shell casings and the taser cartridges. Then they would provide fake drug evidence to the crime lab and file a false report, thus charging the man with crimes he did not commit.
Not only did the fake cover story involve the officers making false statements to investigators, but they were game to pressure witnesses to stick to the cover story.
Three of the officers told the court that they were part of “The Goon Squad,” a group of RCSO officers who were known for “using excessive force and not reporting it.”
“The defendants in this case tortured and inflicted unspeakable harm on their victims, egregiously violated the civil rights of citizens who they were supposed to protect, and shamefully betrayed the oath they swore as law enforcement officers,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“No human being should ever be subjected to the kind of torturous, traumatising and horrific acts of violence that were carried out by these law enforcement officers,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Today’s guilty pleas are historic, in the fight for justice against rogue police torture and police brutality in Rankin County, the state of Mississippi and all over America,” said Malik Shabazz, the attorney for the Black men in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, the men will be sentenced in mid-November, adding that Dedmon and Elward each face a maximum sentence of 120 years plus life in prison and $2.75m in fines. Hartfield faces a possible sentence of 80 years and $1.5m, McAlpin faces 90 years and $1.75m, Middleton faces 80 years and $1.5m, and Opdyke could be sentenced to 100 years with a $2m fine.
On top of this, Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker filed a civil rights suit in Mississippi Southern District Court on 12 June, in which they are seeking $400m in damages. The suit states that Rankin County “is 73.5% White, 21% Black, according to 2019 data,” explaining that the pair “were allegedly the only two Black males residing within a two-mile area of the location of this occurrence.”