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6 former Mississippi law officers to be sentenced in state court for torture of 2 Black men

By MICHAEL GOLDBERG, Associated Press/Report for America
Published: April 10, 2024, 8:17am

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) — Already sentenced to federal prison, six former Mississippi law enforcement officers who pleaded guilty to a long list of state and federal charges for torturing two Black men were sentenced Wednesday in state court.

The six white former Mississippi law enforcement officers who attacked Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker in January 2023 had already been sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from about 10 to 40 years. In March, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee called their actions “egregious and despicable” as he gave sentences near the top of the federal guidelines to five of the six men.

Rankin County Circuit Judge Steve Ratcliff on Wednesday gave the men yearslong state sentences that were shorter than the amount of time in federal prison that they had already received. Time served for the state convictions will run concurrently, or at the same time, as the federal sentences, and the men will serve their time in federal penitentiaries.

The case drew outrage from top law enforcement officials in the country, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said the officers committed a “heinous attack on citizens they had sworn an oath to protect.” In the episode’s grisly details, local residents saw echoes of Mississippi’s history of racist atrocities by people in authority.

The first defendant to be sentenced Wednesday was Brett McAlpin, the fourth highest-ranking officer in the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office. McAlpin had previously been sentenced by a federal judge to about 27 years of federal imprisonment. He was sentenced in state court Wednesday to 15 years on one charge and five years on another.

Prior to the sentencing hearing, Malik Shabazz, an attorney representing Jenkins and Parker, said the state sentencing hearing would be a “test” for Ratliff and state prosecutors.

“The state criminal sentencing is important because historically, the state of Mississippi has lagged behind or ignored racial crimes and police brutality against Blacks, and the Department of Justice has had to lead the way,” Shabazz said.

The defendants include five former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies — McAlpin, 53; Hunter Elward, 31; Christian Dedmon, 29; Jeffrey Middleton, 46; and Daniel Opdyke, 28 — and a former police officer from the city of Richland, Joshua Hartfield, 32, who was off duty during the assault.

All six of the former officers pleaded guilty to state charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to hinder prosecution. Dedmon and Elward, who kicked in a door, also admitted to home invasion.

The charges followed an Associated Press investigation in March that linked some of the officers to at least four violent encounters since 2019 that left two Black men dead.

The former lawmen admitted to breaking into a home without a warrant and torturing Jenkins and Parker in an hourslong attack that included beatings, repeated uses of stun guns and assaults with a sex toy before one of the victims was shot in the mouth.

The terror began on Jan. 24, 2023, with a racist call for extrajudicial violence, according to federal prosecutors.

A white person phoned Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman at a house in Braxton, Mississippi. McAlpin told Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies so willing to use excessive force they called themselves “The Goon Squad.”

Once inside, they handcuffed Jenkins and his friend Parker and poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces while mocking them with racial slurs. They forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess. They mocked the victims with racial slurs and assaulted them with sex objects.

In a mock execution gone awry, Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth, lacerating his tongue and breaking his jaw. The officers devised a coverup and agreed to plant drugs on Jenkins and Parker. False charges stood against the men for months.

McAlpin and Middleton, the oldest in the group, threatened to kill other officers if they spoke up, prosecutors said. Opdyke was the first to admit what they did, according to Jeff Reynolds, his attorney. Opdyke showed investigators a WhatsApp text thread where the officers discussed their plan, Reynolds said.

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The only defendant who didn’t receive a federal prison term at the top of the sentencing guidelines was Hartfield, who did not work in a sheriff’s department with the others and was not a member of the “Goon Squad.”

In federal court, the deputies expressed remorse for their behavior and apologized to Jenkins and Parker. Several of their attorneys said their clients became ensnared in a culture of corruption that was encouraged by leaders in the sheriff’s office.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey 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 changes. Jenkins and Parker have called for his resignation and filed a $400 million civil lawsuit against the department.

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