Home National 6 former Mississippi officers to be sentenced in state court today in...

6 former Mississippi officers to be sentenced in state court today in ‘Goon Squad’ torture of 2 Black men

Attorney Malik Shabazz, center, speaks outside the federal courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, after a sentencing hearing in March as his client, Michael Jenkins, listens. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Brandon, Mississippi (CNN) — Six White former Mississippi law enforcement officers sentenced in federal court last month after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the torture and abuse of two Black men are scheduled to be sentenced again Wednesday – this time on state charges related to the same January 2023 crimes.

The defendants, who include five former Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies; Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke, Jeffrey Middleton, and former Richland Police Department officer Joshua Hartfield, pleaded guilty in August to state and federal charges tied to the abuse of Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins.

Their state sentences will potentially run concurrently with the federal prison sentences they were handed in a Jackson courtroom last month: 10 years for Hartfield, 17.5 years for Middleton, 17.5 years for Opdyke, just over 27 years for McAlpin, 20 years for Elward and 40 years for Dedmon. It’s unclear whether the state charges will result in any additional prison time since they’d likely be concurrent with the federal sentences.

When the federal sentencing hearings were finished, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “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.”

Wednesday morning’s hearing is scheduled to take place in a circuit court that sits in the heart of the Rankin County seat of Brandon – across the street from a Confederate monument – and around 20 miles from the home where the racially charged torture of Parker and Jenkins took place.

The NAACP started a national petition to remove the 1907 monument, topped by a statue of a Confederate soldier, which they say symbolizes decades of racist culture in the county.

The torture happened on January 24, 2023, in Braxton, Mississippi, just southeast of Jackson. It came to light after the two victims filed a $400 million federal lawsuit, which is still pending. Many of the claims in the lawsuit were reflected in the federal charging document.

The two men said the six law enforcement officers illegally entered the home of a woman Parker was helping to care for and where he was also residing. They kicked, waterboarded and used Tasers on Jenkins and Parker and attempted to sexually assault them over nearly two hours before Elward put a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and shot him.

The officers went to the home after a White neighbor reported that several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home and reported seeing suspicious behavior – but in the end the officers found no crime, prosecutors said. At least three of them – Elward, Middleton and 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.

The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office in August brought state charges of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice against each of the officers. Additionally, Dedmon was charged with home invasion and Elward was charged with home invasion and aggravated assault.

McAlpin, Middleton, Opdyke and Hartfield each faced an additional charge of first-degree obstruction of justice, the office said.

“This brutal attack caused more than physical harm to these two individual victims; it severed that vital trust with the people. This abuse of power will not be tolerated,” said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in an August news release.

The former officers pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice, according to court records. Elward faced the most serious of federal charges stemming from the January incident – discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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.”

Victims confronted tormentors in federal court

Vivid accounts of the horrifying brutality of the former officers gripped the packed federal courtroom over the course of three days in March, as victims came face-to-face with their tormentors and testified before the judge.

Attorneys for Jenkins and Parker read aloud their victim impact statements in court at each of the six federal sentencing hearings, but Parker opted to read his own in some of the hearings.

“That night, I saw the devil come to me,” Parker said in his impact statement as he wiped away tears. “I saw the devil in my face, in my home, where I was supposed to be safe. What did I do to get this? Nothing.”

Elward, who faced the most serious of the federal charges for shooting Jenkins, was the first defendant to be sentenced on March 19. Shackled with chains around his waist and wrists, the former officer was visibly emotional during the proceeding.

“I’m not a man of excuses. I fought hard with myself ever since that night. A lot of people are only mad when they get caught … I have to live every night with what I’ve seen and what I’ve done,” Elward said. He then asked the judge if he could address the victims directly, and then turned to make eye contact with both men.

“Mr. Jenkins, I see you every day and every night. I’m so doggone sorry,” Elward said.

Middleton, whom federal prosecutors described as the ringleader of the group, was sentenced later that day and made no eye contact with the victims during his sentencing.

The Justice Department attorneys described in court how Middleton boasted about the group with Rankin County Sheriff’s Department emblems branded with the words “Goon Squad,” picturing a Confederate flag and a noose.

The judge cited a statement submitted by Opdyke included in the defense’s pre-sentencing memorandums, in which that officer described his “downfall” as the day he was recruited into the Goon Squad by Middleton.

Victim walked out of federal courtroom as officer testified

On the night of the attack, 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.

Opdyke, the youngest co-defendant, was sobbing and choking up as he gave his testimony in court during his sentencing hearing on March 20.

“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.” At that moment, Parker was in tears as he stood up and walked out of the courtroom with his aunt.

Dedmon was sentenced later that afternoon during a highly emotional hearing that focused on his sexual assault on one of the victims. At Opdyke’s sentencing, his attorney pointed to Dedmon as the “guy who had this demented sexual perversion.”

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

In handing down his sentence, the judge said Dedmon committed the most “shocking, brutal and cruel acts imaginable.”

Officer from another agency given shorter sentence

McAlpin, who was the highest-ranking officer on the scene, was sentenced on the last day of the hearings in federal court.

Federal prosecutors described him as “the one calling the shots” and as a “mafia don” among the six rogue officers who tortured citizens.

He 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.

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

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 had identified nine incidents over the past five years in which he “brutalized people with impunity.”

Hartfield, who was sentenced to 10 years, was sentenced on the same day as McAlpin. He used a Taser on the two victims while they were handcuffed and tried to dispose of evidence in the case, prosecutors said.

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.”

Before imposing his sentence, the judge said Hartfield “actively participated in a much more limited basis” than his codefendants, but stressed he deserved to be punished.

“You’re not here by accident,” Senior US District Judge Tom Lee told the defendant. “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.”

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.