The 'Goon Squad' Officers Were Sentenced To Prison — But Many People Want More

Civil lead counsel Malik Shabazz (center) speaks to reporters following the sentencing of a fourth former Rankin County law enforcement officer, while his client Michael Corey Jenkins (right) and co-counsel Trent Walker (left) listen outside a federal courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, on March 20.

A federal judge in Mississippi handed down lengthy prison sentences to six white former law enforcement officers last week, after they tortured two Black men in January of last year. The judge sentenced the sixth and final officer, Joshua Hartfield, on Thursday to 10 years in prison. The officers referred to themselves as the “Goon Squad,” according to prosecutors.

Now that the last of the officers is sentenced, civil rights attorneys representing Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, the two men who were tortured, are demanding that Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey resign. He was not involved in the attack, but five of the six officers were his deputies. 

“None of this would have existed if Bryan Bailey did his job and was not complicit,” Malik Shabazz, one of the attorneys representing Jenkins and Parker in an ongoing federal civil suit, told HuffPost.

Jenkins and Parker are suing Rankin County and Bailey, as well as officers involved in last year’s incident, for $400 million. The suit, filed last year, alleges that the sheriff created an atmosphere in which bad officers could run wild.

Bailey has filed for “qualified immunity” in the suit. Qualified immunity is the legal doctrine that law enforcement officers can avoid liability for abuses unless they broke “clearly established” laws.

“Sheriff BRYAN BAILEY directly participates in acts of excessive force with the deputies he supervises,” the lawsuit states, adding that he “has been denied qualified immunity by this court” previously.

The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the litigation.

The suit cites a separate case from 2019, when Rankin County deputies fatally shot a Black man, Pierre Woods, during a standoff. Woods’ family said that he suffered from mental illness.

A judge said that Bailey was present at the scene of that incident, the lawsuit states, adding that the sheriff did not tell officers to stop firing during the fatal encounter.

Woods’ family filed a civil lawsuit against Bailey and the sheriff’s office. Court records show that a settlement was reached last year; the terms are not public.

The suit from Jenkins and Parker further alleges that Bailey failed to enforce proper body-camera usage after an officer did not activate his camera in a 2021 incident that led to the death of a 29-year-old Black man named Damien Cameron. A grand jury declined to charge deputies involved.

SHERIFF BAILEY failed to reprimand HUNTER ELWARD [a deputy] for failing to activate his body camera; failed to train ELWARD in the use of body cameras, and thereby BAILEY created a custom that Rankin Deputies were permitted to turn off body-worn cameras to cover up their misdeeds,” the lawsuit says.

The Rankin County chapter of the NAACP held a town hall meeting this month calling for Bailey’s removal. But branch President Angela English told HuffPost that the group has had at least “six or seven” meetings demanding Bailey’s resignation or ouster from the sheriff’s office since the torture case became public.

“We have been going throughout the county getting signatures and visiting churches [for petitions],” English told HuffPost. “He has created a dark stain on the county as well as the state.”

Bailey won reelection last year after running unopposed.

After the six officers in the torture case — Hartfield, Elward, Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke — all took guilty pleas, the Justice Department asked members of the public to report if they had ever been abused by an officer in the area.

The six officers admitted that “they kicked in the door and entered a home in Braxton, Rankin County, Mississippi,” where Jenkins and Parker were arrested and handcuffed without probable cause, according to the Justice Department.

Officers called them racial slurs, punched and kicked them, and “tased them 17 times,” according to the Justice Department. They also “forced them to ingest liquids, and assaulted them with a dildo,” it said, adding that Elward fired a gun in Jenkins’ mouth — lacerating his tongue and breaking his jaw.

Trent Walker, another attorney representing Jenkins and Parker, said that under Bailey’s leadership, officers acted “without fear and consequence,” citing a culture that the sheriff has created in his office over time.

“It is the most egregious and worst example just because of the sheer brutality and lack of humanity that was shown that you rarely see anyplace else,” Walker told HuffPost.

Shabazz considered the sentencing of the six officers a historic moment in Mississippi history, but said that deeper reforms are needed.

“I find that there is police corruption everywhere, but I find an absence of accountability especially in Mississippi,” he said.