Last 2 Mississippi ex-officers to be sentenced for torturing 2 Black men in racist assault

Sentencing concludes Thursday with the last two former officers in Mississippi who pleaded guilty to breaking into a home without a warrant with four other white policemen and torturing two Black men, an act the judge called “egregious and despicable.”

Former Rankin County deputy Brett McAlpin, 53, and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield, 32, are set to appear separately before U.S. District Judge Tom Lee. They face lengthy prison terms for attacking the victims with a stun gun, a sex toy and other objects before one of the victims was shot.

Lee gave a 40-year prison sentence Wednesday to 29-year-old Christian Dedmon and a 17.5-year sentence to 28-year-old Daniel Opdyke. Along with McAlpin, they worked as Rankin County sheriff’s deputies at the time of the attack. On Tuesday, Lee sentenced two more former Rankin County deputies. He gave nearly 20 years to 31-year-old Hunter Elward and 17.5 years to 46-year-old Jeffrey Middleton.

In March 2023, months before federal prosecutors announced charges in August, an investigation by The Associated Press linked some of the deputies to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries.

The former officers, some of whom called themselves the “Goon Squad,” stuck to their cover story for months until finally admitting that they tortured Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker. Elward admitted to shoving a gun into Jenkins’ mouth and firing it in what federal prosecutors said was a “mock execution” that went awry.

For each of the deputies sentenced so far, Lee has handed down prison terms near the top of the sentencing guidelines.

The terror began Jan. 24, 2023, with a racist call for extrajudicial violence when a white person in Rankin County complained to McAlpin that two Black men were staying with a white woman at a house in Braxton. McAlpin told Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies asking if they were “available for a mission.”

“No bad mugshots,” he texted — a green light, according to prosecutors, to use excessive force on parts of the body that wouldn’t appear in a booking photo.

Dedmon brought Hartfield, who was instructed to cover the back door of the property during the illegal entry.

Once inside, officers handcuffed Jenkins and his friend Parker and poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces. They forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess, and Hartfield guarded the bathroom door to make sure the men didn’t escape. They mocked the victims with racial slurs and shocked them with stun guns. Dedmon and Opdyke assaulted them with a sex toy.

After Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth, lacerating his tongue and breaking his jaw, they devised a coverup that included planting drugs and a gun. False charges stood against Jenkins and Parker for months.

The majority-white Rankin County is just east of the state capital, Jackson, home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city. The officers shouted at Jenkins and Parker to “stay out of Rankin County and go back to Jackson or ‘their side’ of the Pearl River,” court documents say.

Opdyke was the first to admit what they did, his attorney Jeff Reynolds said Wednesday. On April 12, Opdyke showed investigators a WhatsApp text thread where the officers discussed their plan and what happened. Had he thrown his phone in a river, as some of the other officers did, investigators might not have discovered the encrypted messages.

Attorneys for several of the deputies have said their clients became ensnared in a culture of corruption that was not only permitted, but encouraged by leaders within the sheriff’s office.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, who took office in 2012, revealed no details about his deputies’ actions when he announced they had been fired last June. After they pleaded guilty in August, Bailey said the officers had gone rogue and promised to change the department. Jenkins and Parker have called for his resignation, and they have filed a $400 million civil lawsuit against the department.

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.




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