Six former Mississippi law enforcement officers have pleaded guilty to all state charges against them stemming from the torture and abuse of two Black men, one of whom was shot in the mouth during a raid.
Former deputies Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, and Daniel Opdyke and ex-police officer Joshua Hartfield were each charged with conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, according to a news release from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.
Their pleas came after the former officers – five of them deputies for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, the sixth an officer for the Richland Police Department pleaded guilty this month to federal charges in connection to the January incident this year, which the victims have claimed was motivated by their race.
Prosecutors say some of the officers nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and cover up attacks including the assault that ended with a deputy shooting one victim in the mouth.
In January, the officers entered a house without a warrant and handcuffed and assaulted the two men with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects. The officers mocked them with racial slurs throughout a 90-minute torture session, then devised a cover-up that included planting drugs and a gun, leading to false charges that stood against the victims for months.
Their conspiracy unraveled after one officer told the sheriff he had lied, leading to confessions from the others. The charges against the victims weren’t dropped until June after federal and state investigators got involved, according to their attorney.
In state court in Brandon, Miss., the former officers pleaded guilty to offenses that included home invasion, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to hinder a prosecution, according to court documents. One of the former officers, Hunter Elward, pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated assault for shooting one of the Black men.
State prosecutors recommended a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for Mr. Elward, and minimum sentences ranging from five to 10 years for the other defendants.
Prosecutors said the officers could serve their state sentences concurrently with their federal sentences, which are likely to be more severe. The former officers face varying sentences for the federal civil rights violations, but some could receive life in prison when they are sentenced in November, prosecutors said.
The two Black men, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, filed a federal lawsuit in June against the six officers, accusing them of torturing and abusing them in a racially motivated attack for nearly two hours during a home raid in January.
Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker were staying at a ranch-style home in Braxton, Miss., that was owned by a longtime friend of Mr. Parker’s, federal prosecutors said. On Jan. 24, a neighbor notified Brett McAlpin, a Rankin County sheriff’s deputy, that “several” Black men were staying on the property and behaving suspiciously.
Without a warrant, Mr. McAlpin, 52, raided the home that night with five other law enforcement officers: Mr. Elward, 31; Christian Dedmon, 28; Jeffrey Middleton, 46; and Daniel Opdyke, 27, all of whom were Rankin County sheriff’s deputies at the time; and Joshua Hartfield, 31, who was a police officer in Richland, Miss. Richland is a city near Jackson, Mississippi’s state capital.
Three of the former officers, Mr. Middleton, Mr. Elward, and Mr. Opdyke — called themselves members of “the goon squad,” according to a federal complaint, because of their “willingness to use excessive force and not to report it.”
After barging into the house, the officers found Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker and handcuffed them, according to a federal complaint. They shocked them with stun guns, used racial slurs, beat them with kitchen tools and a metal sword, and poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup onto their faces, the complaint states.