‘A momentous day’: All 6 rogue Mississippi officers got long prison sentences in ‘Goon Squad’ torture of 2 Black men

Joshua Hartfield, the last of six White former Mississippi law enforcement officers sentenced in the torture of two Black men in January 2023, received a 10-year prison term in federal court Thursday afternoon.

The hearing capped an emotional three days during which vivid accounts of the horrifying brutality of a self-styled “Goon Squad” of deputies gripped a packed courtroom, where the highest-ranking officer on the scene – Brett McAlpin – was sentenced to more than 27 years in prison earlier Thursday.

“This a momentous day,” Melvin Jenkins, the father of one of the victims, said after the final sentencing.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a release: “The depravity of the crimes committed by these defendants cannot be overstated, and they will now spend between 10 and 40 years in prison for their heinous attack on citizens they had sworn to protect.”

A former Richland Police Department officer, Hartfield was the only defendant who was not a member of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. All six defendants 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.

In addition to their federal charges, the six defendants also pleaded guilty last year to a bevy of state charges for which they await sentencing in connection with the incident.

Hartfield, who used a Taser on the two Black men – Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins – while they were handcuffed, also tried to dispose of evidence in the case, prosecutors said.

“You’re not here by accident,” US District Judge Tom Lee told the defendant before imposing his sentence. “You made some choices. Some bad choices. But I do look at you (in) a different light, I suppose, compared to the other defendants. You were not a member of the ‘Goon Squad.’ You were not even a member of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department.”

Still, the judge told Hartfield he “didn’t just fail to intervene, you actively participated in a much more limited basis than your codefendants, but you participated, nonetheless. For that, you deserve to be punished.”

Hartfield’s attorneys asked for a lesser sentence, but prosecutors told the court the officer wanted to join the sheriff’s office and applied for work there. Prosecutors said Hartfield listened and did nothing as the victims screamed “in pain and agony,” and he participated in the cover-up of the crime.

Shackled around his waist and hands, Hartfield choked up and sobbed when he began to address the court. “All I wanted to do was help people. I failed to help the two people who needed me the most.”

The defendants raided a home in Braxton in January 2023 without a warrant, subjected the two Black men to racist vitriol, used Tasers on them after they had already been handcuffed, beat them with various objects and shot Jenkins in the mouth, prosecutors said.

“Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, I would like to apologize to you both,” Hartfield said.

The officers went to the home after a neighbor reported several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home and reported seeing suspicious behavior. The 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,” FBI Director Christopher Wray has said.

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

At least several of the defendants – then-deputies Hunter Elward, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel 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.

Cop ‘calling the shots’ gets 27-plus years

Federal prosecutors earlier Thursday described McAlpin, a former deputy with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, as “the one calling the shots” and as a “mafia don” among the six rogue cops who tortured citizens – acts associated with another time in the state of Mississippi.

McAlpin, his voice shaking, addressed the court but did not look at the victims.

“Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins, I want you to know I’m sorry for what you went through,” he said.

“I’m sorry to your families because I have three boys and I know I would feel the very same, no different than you did, for what happened to Michael and Eddie. What happened was wrong.”

Parker, in his victim impact statement, said he has been waiting to come face-to-face with McAlpin. “This man right here has given so much grief. He’s taken so many people away from their families.”

Throughout the hearing, McAlpin made no eye contact with the victims or their families. He mostly looked down or straight ahead, occasionally shaking his head.

Parker said he watched the defendant “walk around that house like he was the man.” He mocked McAlpin at one point, saying he could do a better job in law enforcement.

“Your honor … do you think I could be deputized? Do you think I could be a sheriff?” Parker said, eliciting laughter from spectators in the courtroom.

McAlpin’s attorneys said the former officer was not directly involved in the assaults or the shooting. They said he was in plain clothes the night of the incident and did not have his gun or Taser. But the judge agreed with prosecutors, determining the ex-deputy qualified for an aggravating role enhancement in his sentence because he had decision-making authority and recruited accomplices.

“Without McAlpin, the ‘Goon Squad’ would not exist,” a prosecutor said.

McAlpin also urinated in a closet during the raid on the Braxton home “to further degrade the victims in the house and to send the message he wanted them gone,” a prosecutor said.

Prosecutors said McAlpin inflicted trauma on the citizens of Rankin County for decades, and that they identified nine incidents over the past five years in which he “brutalized people with impunity.”

McAlpin, who lived in the neighborhood where Parker and Jenkins were tortured, made the initial call to another officer and directed him to go to the home in Braxton after White neighbors complained about two Black men staying there.

Jenkins’ father, Melvin Jenkins, told the court McAlpin made his son angrier than the man who shot him.

“He sat there like he was some king, sat in the chair and watched them brutalize them. That man right there is a tyrant,” Melvin Jenkins said.

Melvin Jenkins thanked the judge for “not being a ‘good ol’ boy’ and for giving these guys what they deserve.”

The judge also ordered McAlpin to undergo mental health treatment, including anger management.

Malik Shabazz, the victims’ attorney, told reporters Thursday: “A new day has come in a state that was hopeless.”

‘Atrocious’ acts of ‘pure hell’

Descriptions of a nightmare of racially motivated beatings, torture, sexual assaults and even a mock execution played out over the three days of sentencing hearings as victims came face-to-face with their tormentors. The rogue former officers got prison terms for what the FBI director described as “atrocious” acts of “pure hell.”

The judge on Wednesday imposed the harshest sentence so far – 40 years in prison – on former Rankin County sheriff’s deputy Christian Dedmon, saying he committed the most “shocking, brutal and cruel acts imaginable.”

Michael Corey Jenkins, left, and Eddie Terrell Parker walk toward the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, on Thursday. - Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Michael Corey Jenkins, left, and Eddie Terrell Parker walk toward the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, on Thursday. - Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Another former deputy, Opdyke, was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison earlier Wednesday.

Two former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies, Elward and Middleton, were sentenced on Tuesday. Elward, who shot Michael 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.

Besides the other federal charges, Elward also pleaded guilty to discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence.

The former officers left Jenkins on the floor to bleed as they planted a gun on the victims and plotted their cover story, officials said.

“This is a remarkable and historic moment for the state of Mississippi and the United States of America and victims of police brutality and police abuse,” Shabazz told reporters Wednesday.

Ex-cop did not address his victims directly

Former Rankin County deputy Christian Dedmon at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Mississippi on August 14, 2023. - Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Former Rankin County deputy Christian Dedmon at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Mississippi on August 14, 2023. - Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Shabazz has described Dedmon as “oppressive” and “sick.” Federal prosecutors said Dedmon is the most sexually perverted of the former officers and subjected victims to the most egregious sexual acts.

Prosecutors said Dedmon, 29, organized and participated in “countless missions” in which he was “not at all afraid to use excessive force.” Despite his relatively young age, Dedmon “had the experience not to do what he was doing” and “hid behind his badge and gun,” one prosecutor said.

“(Dedmon’s) acts are egregious, serious, lawless,” the prosecutor said.

The disgraced former deputy addressed the court before sentencing but – unlike the three ex-cops before him – he did not address the victims directly or make eye contact.

“The lies, the pain I caused them, I will never forgive myself for. If I could take everything back, I promise that I would. I got into law enforcement not as a devil. I really wanted to make a difference,” Dedmon said.

Melvin Jenkins said after Dedmon was sentenced: “I’ve lived in Mississippi 68 years, and I’ve never seen justice like this.” He thanked federal Judge Tom Lee and said the prison term was “something unheard of” in the state.

Dedmon was also sentenced Wednesday on a different charge to which he’d pleaded guilty – a federal charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence related to a separate incident in December 2022.

In August, the US Justice Department said the 2022 charges stemmed from “an incident on Dec. 4, 2022, in which Dedmon beat and tased a white man and fired a gun near his head to coerce a confession.”

‘Take full responsibility for my actions’

From top left, former Rankin County sheriff's deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield. - Rogelio V. Solis/AP
From top left, former Rankin County sheriff's deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield. - Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Before his 17-year prison term was imposed Wednesday, 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 during his testimony in court. “I can only take full responsibility for my actions, and I deeply regret all the pain and suffering I’ve caused you.”

Parker, in tears, stood up and walked out of the courtroom with his aunt.

The judge also ordered Opdyke to undergo mental health treatment, including 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’s attorneys argued for a seven-year sentence because of extensive sexual and physical abuse they say he endured as a child at the hands of his father.

“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 Opdyke’s attorneys said.

It was revealed during Wednesday’s hearing 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 investigation and “directly contributed” to the defendants’ decision to plead guilty.

Moments after Parker walked out of the courtroom, the former officer 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,” he said.

“I know that after that night, you will never be the same. I could’ve tried to stop it, but I didn’t,” he continued.

Jenkins stared ahead as Opdyke broke down in tears. He showed no emotion. The victim’s attorney wrapped his arm around him.

Opdyke 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.”

The ex-deputy walked away sobbing, red in the face and looking down, shackles around his waist and wrists.

‘An hour and a half of hell’

On Tuesday, two former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies, Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton, were sentenced.

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.

“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.”

After the hearing, however, Jenkins told CNN that Elward’s apology “meant nothing” to him.

Middleton, at sentencing, told the court he accepted responsibility for his actions.

“I made some very poor, life-changing decisions. They were morally and legally wrong,” he said, apologizing to Jenkins, Parker and their families, as well as his family and the people of Rankin County. He was the supervisor on the night of the attacks.

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

After all six sentencings, the Rankin County sheriff said Thursday the defendants had “undermined the reputation of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department.” The former officer are being held accountable because, in part, the department cooperated with all investigative and prosecutorial efforts, Sheriff Bryan Bailey said.

“Violations of established rules and regulations will not be tolerated by this department, and anyone who violates the law will be brought to justice,” Bailey said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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