‘The day of justice has come’: 2 Black men tortured by 6 White law enforcement officers speak before sentencing hearing

Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins said they were often not believed when they tried, for months, to tell people about the grueling violence and torture they endured at the hands of six White law enforcement officers, culminating in Jenkins being shot in the mouth.

Now, more than a year later, the men – both of whom are Black – and their attorney say justice may finally come as the White officers who tortured them for nearly two hours are set to be sentenced in federal court this week. Five of the officers face a maximum of 20 years in prison while the sixth could face a maximum of 30 years behind bars.

“I’m here for a reason,” Parker said in a tearful interview with CNN on Monday. “I’m still here fighting and I’m gonna fight.”

Details from the January 24, 2023, incident eventually came to light after the two men filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in June. Many of the claims were later borne out by federal prosecutors in August as the six former Mississippi officers pleaded guilty to a combined 13 felonies in connection with the torture and abuse of the two men.

“The day of justice has finally come for the Rankin County ‘Goon Squad,’” Malik Shabazz, lead attorney for Parker and Jenkins, said Monday. “It’s an important day, not only for Mississippi, but it’s an important day for accountability, for police brutality all across America.”

Parker and Jenkins, along with their families and attorneys, spoke at a news conference in Jackson on Monday afternoon, ahead of the federal sentencing proceedings this week of the former officers, whose actions both victims say was motivated by their own race. Some of the officers called themselves “The Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and not report it, federal prosecutors said.

“We want the maximum sentence. We want the sentences to match the crimes because the nation is watching, the world is watching, police officers are watching, the families are watching – and they want justice,” Shabazz said.

Former Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke, Jeffrey Middleton, as well as former Richland Police Department officer Joshua Hartfield, pleaded guilty in August to charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice related to the incident.

Parker and Jenkins are expected to testify in federal court this week.

Parker, sitting beside Jenkins and Shabazz, described himself to CNN as a “thornbush,” saying “They took my roots, they took out my strength” but he refused to stop fighting.

Wearing a T-shirt with a photo of himself below that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black teen whose murder helped fuel the civil rights movement in the US, Parker fought back tears and said he was happy to be alive and see justice.

When asked about the significance of the shirt and the torture Till also went through before his death, Parker noted he didn’t know anyone whose face was on a T-shirt and was not dead. “To be right here,” he said looking down at the shirt, “that’s an honor for me. That’s something nobody can take.”

Eddie Parker wears a T-shirt showing a photo of Emmett Till. - CNN
Eddie Parker wears a T-shirt showing a photo of Emmett Till. - CNN

Angela English with the NAACP also spoke at the news conference, urging the judge to apply the maximum sentences. “We can’t erase Mississippi’s past but we can move forward today and set a precedent that has never been set before,” English said, adding, “This is not 1964, it’s 2024.”

Shabazz noted the significance of the case and the historical impact of the pending sentences.

“Never in the history of the United States of America and in this state have you had six police officers plead guilty and be headed to court for sentencing at the same time,” Shabazz said.

He added the case stands apart from others in Mississippi. “A lot of harm has occurred decade after decade in this state,” he continued.

Shabazz told CNN his team met with the Justice Department on Friday ahead of the sentencing proceedings in Jackson.

“Kristen Clarke, US Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, has just reached out to Michael Jenkins, Eddie Parker and their families,” Shabazz told CNN on Friday. “Clark expressed her commitment to civil rights and to eliminating racial intimidation under the color of law in Mississippi.”

“We are deeply appreciative of her department’s historic legal efforts,” he continued.

Federal prosecutors seek maximum sentences for ex-officers

Elward and Middleton are scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday; Dedmon and Opdyke on Wednesday; and Hartfield and McAlpin on Thursday. Federal prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentences for the officers.

Details about what the defense attorneys for the six men are seeking in their sentencing proceedings were not immediately available.

Elward faces the most serious of federal charges stemming from the 2023 incident – discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence. He faces up to 30 years in prison, the federal charging document shows. McAlpin, Middleton, Dedmon, Opdyke and Hartfield each face up to 20 years in prison.

“The sentence that’s given to Hunter Elward, in specific, will send a sign of how the rest of the defendants will be sentenced and it will send a great sign of how serious the judge is about doing justice,” Shabazz told CNN in an interview Monday, adding he believes the judge in the case “is going to give out some strong justice.”

The incident occurred on January 24, 2023, in Braxton, Mississippi, just southeast of Jackson. In their lawsuit, Jenkins and Parker alleged the officers illegally entered their home and handcuffed, kicked, waterboarded and tased them and attempted to sexually assault them over nearly two hours, before one of the deputies put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and shot him.

The deputies, “in their repeated use of racial slurs in the course of their violent acts, were oppressive and hateful against their African-American victims,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants were motivated on the basis of race and the color of the skin of the persons they assaulted.”

Shabazz said during Monday’s news conference their civil rights litigation is ongoing and the issues raised in the lawsuit “have not been resolved.”

The attorneys for Parker and Jenkins are asking the Justice Department to open a pattern or practice investigation into misconduct at the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department, Shabazz said.

“We absolutely believe that the ‘Goon Squad’ is not limited to the six officers facing sentencing,” he said. “We know it’s a lot deeper.”

Three of the officers, Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke, also pleaded guilty in federal court to additional felonies related to a separate incident in December 2022, according to the Justice Department. If convicted on those charges, all three men could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for deprivation of rights. Dedmon faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on the weapons charge.

The six former officers also pleaded guilty to state charges against them stemming from the same January 2023 incident. Each of the officers were charged with conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, according to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

Dedmon is charged with home invasion and Elward is charged with home invasion and aggravated assault. McAlpin, Middleton, Opdyke and Hartfield each face an additional charge of first-degree obstruction of justice. They await sentencing on the state charges.

CNN’s Jade Gordon contributed to this report.

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