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2 Black men tortured by Mississippi officers call for toughest sentences

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two Black men who were tortured by six Mississippi law enforcement officers called on a federal judge Monday to impose the harshest possible penalties against the disgraced former lawmen.

The former law officers admitted in August to subjecting Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker to numerous acts of racially motivated, violent torture.

Prompted by a neighbor's complaint in January 2023 that Jenkins and Parker were staying in a home with a white woman, the group of six burst in without a warrant and assaulted Jenkins and Parker with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects.

After a mock execution went awry when Jenkins was shot in the mouth, they devised a coverup that included planting drugs and a gun. The Rankin County Sheriff's Department then supported the deputies' false charges, which stood against Jenkins and Parker for months.

U.S. District Judge Tom Lee will sentence two defendants each day, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after twice delaying the proceedings.

An attorney for Jenkins and Parker called Monday for the “stiffest of sentences.”

“Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker continue to suffer emotionally and physically since this horrific and bloody attack by Rankin County deputies,” Malik Shabazz said in a statement. “A message must be sent to police in Mississippi and all over America," he said, that such criminal conduct "will be met with the harshest of consequences.”

At a news conference Monday, Jenkins and Parker said they continued to suffer as a result of what they endured.

“It’s been very hard for me, for us,” Jenkins said. “We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

The officers charged include former Rankin deputies Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke, and Joshua Hartfield, a former Richland police officer. They pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy against rights, obstructions of justice, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm under a crime of violence, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Most of their lawyers did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment Monday. Jason Kirschberg, representing Opdyke, said: “Daniel has accepted responsibility for his actions, and his failures to act. ... He has admitted he was wrong and feels deep remorse for the pain he caused the victims.”

On the federal charges, Dedmon and Elward each face a maximum sentence of 120 years plus life in prison and $2.75 million in fines. Hartfield faces a possible sentence of 80 years and $1.5 million, McAlpin faces 90 years and $1.75 million, Middleton faces 80 years and $1.5 million, and Opdyke could be sentenced to 100 years with a $2 million fine.

The former officers agreed to prosecutor-recommended sentences ranging from five to 30 years in state court, but time served for separate convictions at the state level will run concurrently with the potentially longer federal sentences.

An investigation by The Associated Press published in March 2023 linked some of the deputies to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries.

Shabazz said the false charges against the victims weren't dropped until June. That's when federal and state investigators began to close in on the deputies, and one of them began talking. They were fired shortly thereafter, and prosecutors announced the federal charges in August.

Prosecutors say some of the officers nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and cover up attacks.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey called the crimes by his deputies the worst case of police brutality he had ever seen. For months, Bailey said little about the episode. After the officers pleaded guilty in August, Bailey said the officers had gone rogue and promised to change the department.

Jenkins and Parker have called for his resignation, and they have filed a $400 million civil lawsuit against the department.

“I relive this every day,” Parker said. “Every time I turn on the TV. Every time I get on the phone, every time I’m on social media, people are telling my story.”

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The spellings of Brett and McAlpin have been corrected.

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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.