Home News Goon Squad Officers Face Sentencing in Mississippi Torture Cases

Goon Squad Officers Face Sentencing in Mississippi Torture Cases

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Goon Squad Officers Face Sentencing in Mississippi Torture Cases

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Six former law enforcement officers who called themselves the Goon Squad face sentencing in Mississippi starting today, months after they pleaded guilty to federal civil rights offenses for torturing and sexually assaulting two Black men and a third white man who has remained anonymous until now.

Over the next three days, the officers, who each could be sentenced to a decade or more in prison, will appear in federal court in Jackson, Miss. Prosecutors are expected to detail the officers’ violent actions, and victims will have an opportunity to share their stories.

The officers could speak publicly for the first time if they choose to talk about their crimes or ask the judge for leniency.

Hunter Elward, who pleaded guilty to shooting one of the victims, is scheduled to be sentenced first, on Tuesday morning. The other officers will then be sentenced during individual hearings.

The sheriff’s department in Rankin County, a suburban community just outside Jackson, came to national attention last year after five Rankin County deputies and a Richland Police detective raided the home of Eddie Parker, 36, and his friend, Michael Jenkins, 33, following a tip about suspicious activity.

The officers handcuffed and tortured the men by shocking them repeatedly with Tasers, beating them and sexually assaulting them with a sex toy. Mr. Elward put his gun into Mr. Jenkins’s mouth and shot him, shattering his jaw and nearly killing him.

“I experienced looking the devil in the eye,” Mr. Parker said Monday at a press conference.

The officers destroyed evidence and, to justify the shooting, falsely claimed that Mr. Jenkins had pointed a BB gun at them, according to federal prosecutors.

Three of the department’s deputies also pleaded guilty in a separate incident, but prosecutors have so far provided few details about what happened. Prosecutors are expected to read a statement written by the victim in that case, 28-year-old Alan Schmidt.

So far charges against officers in Rankin County have been narrowly focused on these two incidents, but residents in impoverished pockets of the county say that the sheriff’s department has routinely targeted them with similar levels of violence.

Last November, The New York Times and Mississippi Today published an investigation revealing that for nearly two decades, deputies in the Rankin sheriff department, many of whom called themselves the Goon Squad, would barge into homes in the middle of the night, handcuff people and torture them for information or confessions.

In the pursuit of drug arrests, the deputies rammed a stick down one man’s throat until he vomited, dripped molten metal onto another man’s skin and held people down and beat them until they were bloody and bruised, according to dozens of people who said they witnessed or experienced the raids.

Many of those who said they had experienced violence filed lawsuits or formal complaints detailing their encounters with the department. A few said they had contacted Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey directly, only to be ignored.

Sheriff Bailey, who has denied knowledge of the incidents, has faced calls to resign by local activists and the N.A.A.C.P. He has said he will not step down.

Malcolm Holmes, a professor in the department of criminal justice and sociology at the University of Wyoming, said that the Goon Squad case was “going to be one that finds its way into the chronicles of history.”

“There’s so much well-documented evidence that this is a pattern of behavior,” he said, noting that the case revealed “something we’ve covered up for a long time, particularly in rural America.”

The sentencing hearings this week are expected to reveal more details about violence perpetrated by Rankin County deputies, including what happened to Mr. Schmidt.

In an interview with The Times and Mississippi Today last week, Mr. Schmidt spoke publicly for the first time about what happened in December 2022 when a Rankin County deputy pulled him over for driving with an expired tag.

According to the federal indictment, deputies Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward and Daniel Opdyke arrived at the scene shortly afterward. Two other deputies, including the one who pulled Mr. Schmidt over, were also present throughout the arrest, Mr. Schmidt said. Neither has been criminally charged.

Mr. Schmidt said the deputies accused him of stealing tools from his boss, and then Mr. Dedmon pressed a gun to his head and fired it into the air before threatening to dump his body in the Pearl River.

“I thought this was it,” Mr. Schmidt said. “I’m never going to see my family again.”

Mr. Dedmon and the other deputies punched Mr. Schmidt and held his arm in a fire ant hill, then shocked him repeatedly with a Taser, Mr. Schmidt said.

Mr. Dedmon also pressed his genitals against the man’s face and bare buttocks as he yelled for help and kicked at the deputy, Mr. Schmidt said.

“It still goes through my head constantly,” Mr. Schmidt said of the experience.

Rankin County District Attorney Bubba Bramlett has begun to review and dismiss criminal cases that had involved Goon Squad members, his office confirmed last week, but Mr. Bramlett declined to share details about the cases under review.

State lawmakers introduced a bill in January that would expand oversight of Mississippi law enforcement, allowing the state board that certifies officers to investigate and revoke the licenses of officers accused of misconduct, regardless of whether they are criminally charged. Lawmakers have said that the Goon Squad and several other incidents of alleged police misconduct in Mississippi helped prompt the bill.

The Mississippi House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass the bill last week. The state senate is expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

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