Goon Squad Officer Sentenced to 20 Years in Mississippi Torture Cases

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One of six former law enforcement officers who called themselves the Goon Squad was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday, months after he and his co-defendants pleaded guilty. to federal crimes against civil rights for torturing and sexually assaulting two black men and a third white man who has remained anonymous until now.

Hunter Elward, the officer who shot one of the victims in the mouth, received the maximum sentence allowed under his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Elward broke down in tears before U.S. District Court Judge Tom Lee and apologized to the victims and their families. Elward turned to Eddie Parker, 36, and Michael Jenkins, 33, who were tortured and sexually assaulted by officers during a raid on Mr. Parker’s home.

“I hate that I was involved in this,” he said. “I hate what happened to them.”

When Elward left the podium, Parker stood up and said he forgave him.

During the hearing, Elward said he had witnessed brutal conduct by other deputies throughout his seven years with the department, which his attorney, Joe Hollomon, said was “the culture of the County Sheriff’s Department.” Rankin.”

Outside the courtroom, Jenkins, the man Elward shot in the face during what was described as a mock execution, said he did not forgive Mr. Elward. “If they hadn’t caught him, he would still be doing the same thing.” Mr. Jenkins said.

Both men said they were satisfied with Judge Lee’s sentence.

Over the next two days, the other officers involved in the incidents, each of whom could be sentenced to a decade or more in prison, will appear in federal court in Jackson, Mississippi. Prosecutors are expected to detail the violent actions of the officers and the victims. They will have the opportunity to share their stories.

The sheriff’s department in Rankin County, a suburban community outside Jackson, drew national attention last year after five Rankin County deputies and a Richland police detective raided Mr. Parker’s home. and his friend, Mr. Jenkins, following a lead on suspects. activity.

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

“They tried to take my manhood from me,” Jenkins said in a statement to the court Tuesday morning. “I never think I’ll ever be the person I was.”

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

Three of the department’s officers also pleaded guilty to violently attacking Alan Schmidt, 28, in a separate incident in December 2022.

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

Last November, The New York Times and Mississippi Today published research revealing that for nearly two decades, Rankin County Sheriff’s Department deputies, many of whom called themselves Goon Squad, broke into homes in the middle of the night, handcuffed people and tortured them to obtain information or confessions .

In pursuit of drug arrests, officers shoved 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 reports. people who said they had witnessed or experienced the raids.

Many of those who said they experienced violence filed lawsuits or formal complaints detailing their encounters. Some said they had contacted Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey directly, but were ignored.

Sheriff Bailey, who has denied knowledge of the incidents, has faced calls for his resignation from local activists and the NAACP. He has said that he will not resign.

Malcolm Holmes, a professor of criminal justice and sociology at the University of Wyoming, said the Goon Squad case “was going to go down in the history books.”

“There is a lot of 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, especially in rural America.”

This week’s sentencing hearings are expected to reveal more details about the violence perpetrated by Rankin County deputies, including what happened to Mr. Schmidt.

In an interview with The Times and Mississippi Today last week, 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 license plate.

According to the federal indictment, officers Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward and Daniel Opdyke arrived at the scene shortly afterward. Two other officers, including the one who detained Schmidt, were also present during the arrest, Schmidt said; none have been criminally charged.

Schmidt said officers had accused him of stealing tools from his boss, and then Dedmon put a gun to his head and fired shots into the air before threatening to throw his body into the Pearl River.

“I thought this was it,” Schmidt said. “I will never see my family again.”

Dedmon and the other officers beat Schmidt and pinned his arm in an anthill, then shocked him repeatedly with a Taser, Schmidt said.

Dedmon also pressed his genitals against Schmidt’s face and bare buttocks while he screamed for help and kicked the officer, Schmidt said.

“It still runs through my head constantly,” he said of the experience.

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

state legislators presented a bill earlier this year would expand oversight of law enforcement in Mississippi, 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 the Goon Squad and several other incidents of police misconduct in Mississippi helped push the bill.

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

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