Six former Mississippi law enforcement officers pleaded guilty in state court Monday to charges related to torturing two Black men in January. All six had already admitted their guilt to the crimes in federal court.
Prosecutors say the officers, who are all white, nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and to cover up their maleficence, including the attack that ended with one victim, Michael Corey Jenkins, shot in the mouth.
The prosecutor recommended only five years of prison time Monday on the first charge and five on the second, with the sentences running concurrently, meaning they would be out after five years.
They will face federal sentencing on Nov. 3.
On Jan. 24, the officers forcefully entered a house without a warrant and handcuffed and assaulted Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects. At the hearing Monday, the prosecution said the now former officers kicked in the doors of the victims' home and immediately began a 90-minute torture session during which they told the men to "stop taking advantage of a white woman who lived there," the prosecutor said.
The officers mocked the two men with racial slurs throughout the ordeal, repeatedly shocked them electricity volts via tasers, assaulted them with a vibrator, poured chocolate and syrup over their faces and then devised a cover-up after a game of Russian Roulette went bad and one of the victims was shot in the mouth, according to the prosecution.
The six officers schemed to plant drugs and a gun on one of the men and concocted a story that Jenkins was shot because he resisted and went for an officer's gun, justifying the shooting, prosecutors said.
The officers' story fell flat, and each of the men pleaded guilty.
"It's a long time coming," Parker, one of the victims, said on the courthouse steps. "We're not sitting here fighting for nothing. We're fighting for all ... Justice was served."
The admitted criminals include five former Rankin County deputy sheriffs — Brett McAlpin, Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke — and a police officer from the city of Richland, Joshua Hartfield.
Elward admitted he shoved a gun into Jenkins’s mouth and pulled the trigger in a “mock execution” that went awry.
After the brazen acts of police violence in Rankin County came to light, some residents pointed to a police culture they said gave officers carte blanche to abuse their power.
The civil rights charges followed an investigation by The Associated Press linking some of the officers to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019, which left two dead and another with lasting injuries. The Justice Department launched a civil rights probe into the case in February.
Rankin County’s majority-white suburbs have been one of several destinations for white flight out of the capital, Jackson, which is home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city.
The officers warned Jenkins and Parker, to “go back to Jackson or ‘their side’ of the Pearl River.” An attorney for the victims confirmed after court that the men received death threats from residents and have not been living in Mississippi.
Jenkins and Parker were targeted because a white neighbor complained that two Black men were staying at the home with a white woman, court documents show.
Parker was a childhood friend of the homeowner, Kristi Walley. She’s been paralyzed since she was 15, and Parker was helping care for her.
“He’s a blessing. Every time I’ve needed him he’s been here,” Walley said in a February interview. “There were times I’ve been living here by myself and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Jenkins still has difficulty speaking because of his injuries. The gunshot lacerated his tongue and broke his jaw before exiting his neck.
“As far as justice, I knew we were going to get it,” Jenkins said. “But I thought it was maybe going to take longer.”
After the officers pleaded guilty to the federal charges, Kristen Clarke, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said they fomented distrust within the community they were supposed to serve. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said the abuse of power would not be tolerated.