Mississippi ‘Goon Squad’ torture defendants get prison terms totaling 100-plus years

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 1:17 PM

By Steve Gorman and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A federal judge in Mississippi on Thursday began sentencing the last of six white ex-lawmen who pleaded guilty to last year’s “Goon Squad” torture and sexual abuse of two Black man, leaving the defendants with combined prison terms totaling more than a century.

The six men will still face sentencing on state charges for their roles in the home-invasion assault, which has stood out among dozens of racially charged U.S. police misconduct cases in recent years for the chilling nature of its calculated brutality.

The two victims, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, were handcuffed, stripped naked, beaten, sexually assaulted and subjected to electric Taser shocks and waterboarding as the officers screamed racial slurs at them, according to accounts filed by prosecutors in the case.

The two-hour ordeal in January 2023 began when the six officers stormed into the house without a warrant, ostensibly looking for illegal drugs, and ended in a mock execution that left Jenkins gravely wounded from a gunshot to the mouth, court records showed.

The former lawmen referred to themselves as members of “the Goon Squad,” a group that routinely used excessive force, according to the case record. All but one were members of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office.

The case finally brought national attention to what Rankin County residents say has been decades of abuse perpetrated by patrol officers and detectives in the sheriff’s department against poor people, white and Black, in central Mississippi.

The wider pattern was documented in late November 2023, a few months after the six defendants had pleaded guilty to federal and state charges, in a joint inquiry by the New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

The defendants were sentenced this week for federal felony offenses to which they pleaded guilty last summer, including civil rights conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.

Brett McAlpin, former chief investigator for the sheriff’s department, was sentenced on Thursday to more than 27 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Tom Lee was expected to sentence the final defendant, Joshua Hartfield, an ex-officer from the police force in Richland, Mississippi, later in the day.

Christian Dedmon, who prosecutors considered the ringleader of the raid in January, received the longest prison term so far, 40 years, when sentenced on Wednesday. Hunter Elward, who fired the gunshot that wounded Jenkins, was given 20 years on Tuesday.

Jeffrey Middletown, 46, a sheriff’s lieutenant at the time of the raid, was sentenced on Tuesday to 17.5 years. Daniel Opdyke received the same sentence on Wednesday.


According to federal prosecutors, the six defendants barged into the house where the victims were staying in Braxton, Mississippi, on Jan. 24, 2023, after the sheriff’s office had received a complaint from a white neighbor that they had seen “suspicious behavior” from the Black men living there.

Upon entering the home without warning or probable cause, the officers detained Jenkins and Parker, demanding to know “where the drugs were,” court documents said.

After he and his cohorts had subjected their victims to nearly two hours of torture, Elward shoved the barrel of a gun into Jenkins’ mouth, unaware that a bullet was in the chamber and pulled the trigger, firing a gunshot that shattered Jenkins’ jaw and lacerated his tongue.

Rather than render medical aid as Jenkins lay bleeding on the floor, the officers reassembled outside to devise a cover story. They left a gun at the scene, destroyed surveillance video, tried to burn the victims’ clothes and planted illegal drugs in the house.

The U.S. Justice Department opened a federal investigation of the case in February 2023. Jenkins and Parker filed a $400 million federal civil rights lawsuit against Rankin County last June.

The guilty pleas entered in federal court in August were part of a larger criminal settlement that included guilty pleas to state charges. A date has not yet been set for sentencing in the state case. The defendants are to serve their federal and state sentences concurrently.

In response to public attention raised by disclosures of the “Goon Squad” abuses, Mississippi lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would allow authorities to investigate and revoke the police license of officers accused of misconduct, regardless of whether they have been criminally charged.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Donna Bryson, Bill Berkrot, Alistair Bell and David Gregorio)