Six white former police officers pleaded guilty on Monday to state charges for torturing two Black men.
The men had sworn an oath to protect and serve were huddled on the back porch of a Mississippi home as Michael Corey Jenkins lay on the ground, blood gushing from his mutilated tongue where one of the police officers shoved a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The roughly 90-minute period of terror preceding the shooting began late on January 24 after a white neighbor called Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman inside a Braxton home.
McAlpin tipped off Deputy Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies who called themselves “The Goon Squad,” a moniker they adopted because of their willingness to use excessive force.
“Are y’all available for a mission?” Dedmon asked. They were.
Five of the former officers are from Rankin County Sheriff’s Office – 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. Some of the group calls themselves the “Goon Squad,” as they were known for “using excessive force and not reporting it.”
All pleaded guilty to state charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to hinder prosecution. Each reached individual plea agreements that include prison sentences ranging from five to 30 years, according to court records obtained by the Associated Press.
The guilty pleas to the state charges arrive just over a week after all six men also pleaded guilty to 16 federal felonies “stemming from the torture and physical abuse” of two Black men.
They will be sentenced for the federal charges in mid-November.
According to the Justice Department’s release earlier this month, 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.
The two men 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 reportedly “punched and kicked” Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker, “tased them 17 times, forced them to ingest liquids, and assaulted them with a dildo.”
Court records detail how they burst into a home without a warrant, handcuffed Jenkins and Parker, assaulted them with a sex toy and beat Parker with wood and a metal sword. They poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces and then forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess.
Then one of them put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and fired.
As Jenkins lay bleeding, they didn’t render medical aid. They knew the mission had gone too far and devised a hasty cover-up scheme that included a fictitious narcotics bust, a planted gun and drugs, stolen surveillance footage and threats.
The deputies were under the watch of Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, who called it the worst episode of police brutality he has seen in his career.
On top of other torturous behaviour, the former officers devised a cover-up, involving making false statements and charging the two men with crimes they did not commit, but also neglected to provide medical aid to them.
Law enforcement misconduct in the U.S. has come under increased scrutiny, largely focused on how Black people are treated by the police. The 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police ignited calls for sweeping criminal justice reforms and a reassessment of American race relations. The January beating death of Tyre Nichols by five Black members of a special police squad in Memphis, Tennessee, led to a probe of similar units nationwide.
In Rankin County, the brutality visited upon Jenkins and Parker was not a botched police operation, but an assembly of rogue officers “who tortured them all under the authority of a badge, which they disgraced,” U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca said.
The county just east of the state capital, Jackson, is home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city. A towering granite-and-marble monument topped by a Confederate soldier stands across the street from the sheriff’s office.
The officers warned Jenkins and Parker to “stay out of Rankin County and go back to Jackson or ‘their side’ of the Pearl River,” court documents say, referencing an area with higher concentrations of Black residents.
Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the trauma “is magnified because the misconduct was fueled by racial bias and hatred.” She mentioned another dark chapter in Mississippi law enforcement: the 1964 kidnapping and killing of three civil rights workers.
The violent police misconduct is a reminder “there is still much to be done,” Clarke said.