Rankin County, Mississippi: Third of 6 former officers sentenced to more than 17 years in the torture of 2 Black men

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By journalsofus.com



Jackson, Mississippi
CNN
 — 

Daniel Opdyke, the third of six former Mississippi law enforcement officers who pleaded guilty in the torture of two Black men last year, was sentenced by a federal judge Wednesday to more than 17 years in prison.

The former Rankin County Sheriff’s Office deputy pleaded guilty in August to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice related to the violent attacks in January 2023.

The judge also ordered Opdyke to undergo mental health treatment, including for anger management, as well as alcohol and drug treatment. The ex-deputy was also ordered to pay $79,500 in restitution to the victims.

Opdyke was part of a squad of White Mississippi law enforcement officers who raided a home without a warrant, subjected two Black residents to racist vitriol, tased them after they had already been handcuffed, beat them with various objects and then shot one in the mouth – leaving him to bleed as they planted a gun on the victims and plotted their cover story, officials said.

Now, each of those six former officers is paying the price for what the FBI director described as “atrocious” acts of “pure hell.”

During Opdyke’s highly emotional and tense sentencing hearing Wednesday, the former deputy’s attorneys said he should get only seven years in prison because of the extensive sexual and physical abuse he endured as a child at the hands of his father.

Michael Corey Jenkins, left, and Eddie Terrell Parker enter the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

“His history of abandonment by both parents, his own father raped him until he was 8 years old. Daniel has no memory before he was 8 years old,” one of his attorneys said.

And for the first time in court, it was revealed that Opdyke was the officer who turned over the text messages from the “Goon Squad” group chat, which was on the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, to the federal government on April 12, 2023.

Opdyke’s attorney said that information “substantially” assisted the Justice Department’s investigation into the incident and “directly contributed” to the defendants’ decision to plead guilty.

All six former officers pleaded guilty in August to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice related to the incident.

They include Opdyke; his fellow former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Jeffrey Middleton, Christian Dedmon and Brett McAlpin; and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield. Each of the deputies has since resigned or been fired.

At least several of the disgraced officers – Elward, Middleton and Opdyke – were part of a group of deputies that called themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and not report it, federal prosecutors said in court documents. Now, Opdyke’s attorney is blaming other members of the “Goon Squad,” accusing them of influencing his client.

In October 2022, as the newest officer among the group of six, Opdyke was invited by Middleton to be on the “Goon Squad,” his attorney said. “They brought him into the inner circle, put him on the text thread. They accepted him,” he said.

“Daniel documented decades of barging into homes in the middle of the night, torturing people to elicit a confession, forcing guns or Tasers into people’s mouths, sexually assaulting people with sex toys, waterboarding, tasing suspects’ genitals, punching them in the face,” the attorney said. “When a new officer starts to work over there, they start indoctrinating.”

Opdyke’s attorney said he called the Justice Department after his client turned over the text messages because he was afraid co-defendant “Elward was going to kill him.”

“By May 2023, he couldn’t take it anymore. He was disgusted at himself, quit the sheriff’s department – none of the rest of them did that. It was like being in a cult,” the attorney said. “As soon as he got away from the cult, the cult leaders McAlpin and Middleton, he was able to think straight, and he was disgusted with himself about what he did. He told the full story.”

A visibly emotional Opdyke addressed the court and the victims directly as he sobbed, wiped away tears and paused throughout his statement to them.

“I cannot fathom how I fell so easily in line, going along with and actively participating in the use of excessive force against Mr. Parker and Mr. Jenkins,” Opdyke said. He then turned to Parker, who was crying with his head between his legs.

“Nothing I say can undo the harm that I caused you,” Opdyke told Parker. “I can only take full responsibility for my actions, and I deeply regret all the pain and suffering I’ve caused you.” Parker then stood up and walked out of the courtroom with his aunt.

Opdyke then looked at Jenkins and spoke to him directly: “Mr. Jenkins, I also failed you. I hit you and tried to force a sex toy in your mouth,” the former officer said. “I know that after that night, you will never be the same. I could’ve tried to stop it, but I didn’t.”

Jenkins stared ahead as Opdyke spoke to him and showed no emotion. The victim’s attorney wrapped his arm around him.

The former officer then asked his victims for forgiveness.

“I regret my actions wholeheartedly, and I hope each of you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” Opdyke said. “Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker were innocent victims, and I was the perpetrator.”

He then walked away sobbing, red in the face and looking down, with shackles around his waist and wrists.

Dedmon, another former Rankin County sheriff’s deputy, will be sentenced in federal court Wednesday afternoon after pleading guilty in connection with the assaults.

Two other former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies, Elward and Middleton, learned their fates Tuesday. Elward, who shot Jenkins in the mouth, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and gave an emotional apology to the victims in court. Middleton was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison.

The final two defendants, Hartfield and McAlpin, will be sentenced on Thursday.

In addition to their federal charges, the defendants also face a bevy of state charges.

“Six White law enforcement officers committed some absolutely unspeakable crimes,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday. “It’s hard to imagine a more atrocious set of civil rights violations than those carried out by these guys.”

In January 2023, the officers went to a home in Braxton after a neighbor reported several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home and reported seeing suspicious behavior.

On the night of January 24, without a search warrant, the six law enforcement officers “kicked in the door of a home where two Black men were staying and subjected them to an hour and a half of hell,” the FBI director said.

Parker was “a long-time friend” of the White homeowner who was living at the home and helping take care of her, federal prosecutors said. Jenkins was living at the home temporarily.

Despite having no probable cause to believe either had committed a crime, the six officers “handcuffed and arrested the men, kicked and beat them, bombarded them with racial slurs, forced them to strip naked, assaulted them with a variety of objects, tased them … 17 times, and fired their guns to intimidate them,” Wray said.

“But that wasn’t enough for these guys,” the FBI director said. “One of them had the idea to stage a mock execution. So he took his weapon and secretly removed a bullet from the chamber. Then he put the barrel into one victim’s mouth and pulled the trigger, dry-firing the gun.”

“Then he did it again — but this time, the gun didn’t dry-fire. It discharged, sending a bullet into the victim’s mouth, lacerating his tongue, and breaking his jaw,” Wray said.

Michael Corey Jenkins shows the scar that remains after a Mississippi law enforcement officer shot him in the mouth.

“Can you imagine the abject terror those two victims must have felt? I mean, who do you call when the police are the ones terrorizing you?”

While Jenkins was bleeding on the floor from the gunshot wound, the officers didn’t render aid, Wray said.

“Instead, they came up with a cover story and then took steps to corroborate it,” including planting a gun on one of the victims, he said.

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for Elward, who shot Jenkins in the mouth, the former deputy apologized to his victims in court.

“Mr. Jenkins, I see you every day and every night. I’m so doggone sorry,” Elward said.

“There’s no telling what you’ve seen. I’m so sorry that I caused that. I hate myself for it. I hate that I gave you that. I accept all responsibility.”

Jenkins nodded. Parker stood up and replied: “We forgive you, man.”

But Jenkins told CNN after the hearing that Elward’s apology “meant nothing” to him.

Middleton, during his own sentencing, told the court he accepted responsibility for what he did.

“I made some very poor, life-changing decisions. They were morally and legally wrong,” he said while apologizing to Jenkins, Parker and their families, as well as his family and the people of Rankin County, where he had been a deputy and was the supervisor the night of the incident.

Eddie Terrell Parker, left, is seen with his aunt, Linda Rawls, outside the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

In his victim’s impact statement, read by attorney Malik Shabazz, Parker said he didn’t think Middleton was sorry.

“I’m offended that Jeffrey Middleton is not apologetic, and is trying to make light of his role in these torture sessions, and crimes,” he said. “He used a sword to hit me.”

New details are emerging about another disturbing case that several of the ex-officers have also pleaded guilty to.

Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke pleaded guilty in federal court to felonies related to a separate incident in December 2022, according to the Justice Department.

On Tuesday, Elward was sentenced for a federal charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law related to the December 2022 incident. The other two former officers are expected to be sentenced this week.

The three former deputies pleaded guilty to the incident involving a person only referred to as “A.S.” in court documents.

The victim was identified by federal prosecutors in court on Tuesday as Alan Schmidt, who previously told The New York Times the then-deputies pulled him over in December 2022 for an expired tag, only to accuse him of stealing tools.

Schmidt told the Times the “Goon Squad” members assaulted him, beat him and tased him. He said one deputy rubbed his genital and buttocks against his head.

The three ex-officers accused in Schmidt’s case – Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke – have all pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color or law. They entered plea agreements last July.

Dedmon pleaded to two additional charges related to the incident, including discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence and a second count of deprivation of rights.

The deprivation of rights charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to court documents. The firearms charge carries a minimum 10-year sentence.

Court documents reviewed by CNN also said: “Dedmon discharged a firearm in close proximity to A.S. for the purpose of scaring and coercing a confession.”

A statement from Schmidt was read by federal prosecutors in court during sentencing hearings for the “Goon Squad.”

“I pray every day that I can forgive them. I know I’m not their only victim. It will take years to live a somewhat normal life,” Schmidt’s statement said.

“I thought the assault would go on forever,” the statement said. “The harder I prayed, the harder I was beaten.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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