Racist abuse by Mississippi officers reveals a culture of misconduct, residents say

Monica Lee sat outside her parents’ home, where a former Mississippi sheriff’s deputy pummeled her son, who died hours later in the hospital.

It was a sweltering afternoon in Braxton — the same town where, in a separate episode, six white law enforcement officers tortured two other Black men in January, shaking seasoned federal prosecutors, elected officials and ordinary people to their core.

The officers, one of whom also was involved in the violent episode with Lee’s son two years prior, pleaded guilty Thursday to a long list of federal civil rights charges.

Lee believes former Rankin County Deputy Hunter Elward is responsible for the 2021 death of her son, Damien Cameron, who was accused of vandalizing a neighbor’s home while living with his grandparents. A grand jury declined to indict Elward and he was never convicted of a crime. The brazen acts of violence to which he would plead guilty two years later were made possible because of a police culture that has festered for years, Lee said.

Five deputies from the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, some of whom called themselves “the Goon Squad,” and an officer from the Richland Police Department admitted to taking part in a racist assault against Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrel Parker. The men never thought their abusers would pay for their crimes.

“It’s really a shock, but I enjoyed every moment of it,” Parker said, recounting the former officers being led out of a federal courtroom in shackles.

Court documents unsealed by federal prosecutors suggest only some members of the Goon Squad participated in the raid. There are other Rankin County deputies “known to the United States Attorney,” the documents say.

Lee, who spoke to The Associated Press the day after the guilty pleas, rejoiced that Elward is headed to federal prison. Elward’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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