JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Six white former law enforcement officers in Mississippi who called themselves the “Goon Squad” have pleaded guilty to a racist assault on two Black men who were brutalized during a home raid that ended with an officer shooting one man in the mouth, federal prosecutors say.
The civil rights charges were unsealed Thursday as the officers — five former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies and an ex-Richland police officer — appeared in federal court and pleaded guilty.
The charges come after an Associated Press investigation that linked the deputies involved in the episode to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries.
Court documents show that on Jan. 24, the officers burst into the home without a warrant, then handcuffed and used a stun gun on the two men, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker.
The officers assaulted them with a sex object, beat them and used their stun guns repeatedly over a roughly 90-minute period. The episode culminated with one deputy placing a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and firing, which cut his tongue, broke his jaw and exited out his neck, the court documents said.
The officers did not give him medical attention, instead discussing a “false cover story to cover up their misconduct,” as well as planting and tampering with evidence, the documents said.
The officers went to the home in Braxton because a white neighbor had complained that Black people were staying with the white woman who owned the house, court documents said. Officers used racist slurs against the two men during the raid, the court documents show.
The victims are identified only by their initials in the documents, but Jenkins and Parker have publicly discussed the episode. They filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Rankin County in June seeking $400 million in damages.
Court documents said the officers gave themselves the Goon Squad nickname “because of their willingness to use excessive force and and not to report it.”
Those charged in the case are former Rankin County Sheriff’s Department employees Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield.
The documents identified Elward as the person who shot Jenkins, and Opdyke and Dedmon as the ones who assaulted the two men with the sex object.
The Justice Department in February launched the civil rights probe into allegations levied by Jenkins and Parker.
Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey announced on June 27 that all five deputies involved in the Jan. 24 episode had been fired or resigned. Hartfield was later revealed to be the sixth law enforcement officer at the raid. Hartfield was off-duty when he participated in the raid, and he was also fired.
The officers were charged under what’s known as a criminal information filed in federal court, a document that describes the basis for bringing criminal offenses against a defendant. Unlike an indictment, a criminal information does not require a grand jury’s vote.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.