A Mississippi sheriff’s department said Tuesday it had fired multiple deputies after two Black men accused them in a federal lawsuit of beating, torturing and sexually violating them. One of the men was nearly killed when an officer put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, the lawsuit says.
The two men, Michael Jenkins, 32, and Eddie Parker, 35, filed the $400 million federal lawsuit against the Rankin County Sheriff's Department this month. The lawsuit describes the deputies’ alleged actions as “one of the worst and most bizarre incidents of police misconduct in United States history.”
“Due to recent developments, including findings during our internal investigation, those deputies that are still employed by this department have all been terminated,” Sheriff Bryan Bailey said Tuesday, reading from a prepared statement. The department declined to say how many deputies were fired.
“We understand that the alleged actions of the deputies have eroded the public’s trust in our department,” added Bailey, who is named in the lawsuit. “Rest assured that we will work diligently to restore that trust.”
Malik Shabazz and Trent Walker, attorneys for the two men, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The FBI, the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office for Southern Mississippi have opened a federal civil rights investigation.
Rankin County, one of Mississippi’s most populous counties, sits just across the Pearl River from Jackson, the state capital. Its population is 74% white and nearly 23% Black, according to the 2022 census. It abuts counties with large Black populations in a state that has long contended with a violent racial history.
The incident comes in a national reckoning over officers' use of excessive force, with particular scrutiny of the targeting of Black people. Recent shootings and beatings — including the deaths of Aderrien Murry in Indianola, Mississippi, and Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee — have again shined the spotlight on the issue after the country faced mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020.
Jenkins and Parker, who lived together at the time of the alleged assault, claimed in the federal lawsuit that deputies entered their home without cause or warning. The deputies beat, waterboarded, stunned, sexually violated and attacked them with racial slurs, the men say in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers lobbed race-based insults at the men and angrily accused them of dating white women. They allegedly handcuffed and beat the men before they shot them with Tasers 20 to 30 times “in a sadistic contest with each other as to which Taser would be most effective when fired against these two victims,” according to court documents.
The officers then put the two men on their backs and poured water on their faces in an effort to waterboard them, the lawsuit claims, before they sexually assaulted them with a sex toy.
Multiple deputies put their guns to the men’s heads and threatened to kill them, the lawsuit says.
The evening ended when an officer put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth while he was handcuffed, according to the lawsuit. The gunshot allegedly shattered Jenkins’ jaw and severely lacerated his tongue. Several of Jenkins’ arteries were severely damaged, and he almost died, it says. He was then left alone to seek aid, the court documents allege.
While the sheriff’s department would not say how many deputies were relieved, a spokesperson said all those at the scene were fired after the internal investigation. The lawsuit said six officers were at the scene, though it named only three, including Deputy Hunter Elward.
Elward could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Elward, the officer accused of shooting Jenkins, was previously involved in the death of Damien Cameron, a 29-year-old Black man whose neighbor accused him of vandalism and called the police in 2021, the department has said.
A grand jury declined to indict Elward last year, citing a lack of evidence. Mississippi Public Broadcasting reported Monday that his family still sought justice nearly two years later.
The lawsuit said Bailey, the sheriff, “directly participates in acts of excessive force with the deputies he supervises and has been denied qualified immunity by this court” before it named multiple incidents in which his officers are alleged to have used excessive force.
Bailey said it remained his “privilege” to lead the department.
“I believe in my heart that this department remains one of the best departments in our state, and I am committed to doing everything in my power to keep this department on a correct path moving forward,” Bailey said, reading from his statement.
As reporters peppered him and a spokesperson with questions Tuesday at the end of the news conference, Bailey slowly and quietly edged toward the door. He stopped to say only that he would not resign and that he could not answer further questions.