Six former Mississippi law enforcement officers have pleaded guilty to charges related to the torture of two Black men, US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Darren LaMarca said in a Thursday news conference.
The announcement comes after federal charges were filed against the former law enforcement officers, who “called themselves ‘The Goon Squad’ because of their willingness to use excessive force and not to report it,” according to a federal charging document.
“The people of Mississippi and those of Rankin County expect those who enforce the laws to follow the law, clearly these men did not – they held themselves above the law,” LaMarca said.
The charges include conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, according to online federal court records.
Three of the former Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies pleaded guilty during the same court appearance to additional felonies related to a separate incident that occurred in December 2022.
Christian Lee Dedmon, Hunter Elward and Daniel Opdyke pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under the color of law. Dedmon also pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to court documents.
Court documents say the incident happened “on or about December 4, 2022.” According to the brief filing, Dedmon is accused of assaulting a man, identified as A.S. by “punching, kicking, and tasing him.” He’s also accused of discharging “… a firearm in close proximity to A.S. for the purpose of scaring A.S. and coercing a confession.”
Prosecutors say the other two deputies at the scene refrained from intervening.
An August 3 news release from the US Department of Justice sheds additional light on the incident, saying “the charges arise out of 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.”
If convicted, all three men could face up to 10 years in prison and a quarter million dollar fine on the deprivation of rights charges. Dedmon faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on the weapons charge.
CNN has reached out to the attorneys for the former officers for comment.
Former Rankin County Sheriff’s Department deputy Hunter Elward faces the most serious of charges stemming from the January incident – discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence. Court documents name the other officers charged as Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke and Joshua Hartfield.
The incident occurred on January 24 in Braxton, Mississippi, just southeast of Jackson. It came to light after two men, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, filed a federal civil lawsuit. Many of the claims in the lawsuit were reflected in the federal charging document.
The two men, who are Black, say six White law enforcement officers entered the home they were in and tortured them for nearly two hours, culminating with Jenkins being shot in the mouth.
“The defendants in this case tortured and inflicted unspeakable harm on their victims, egregiously violated the civil rights of citizens who they were supposed to protect, and shamefully betrayed the oath they swore as law enforcement officers,” US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jermicha Fomby described the alleged actions as “horrific.” He added, “I did not expect this to be the actions that we would have subjected upon our citizens in the year 2023.”
“On behalf of our clients Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, Black Lawyers for Justice thanks the United States Department of Justice for the historic legal results choices achieved today,” Malik Shabazz, the lead attorney for the victims, said in a statement.
In an interview last month, Parker told CNN: “Justice is what it all boils down to. I’m just like them, you know, whether they in uniform or not.”
Former officers also facing state charges
The six former officers are also facing state charges in the incident, to which they are expected to plead guilty to on August 14 as part of a plea deal, Mississippi Deputy Attorney General Mary Helen Wall said Thursday.
“The egregious conduct of these individuals is a dark stain on law enforcement and erodes the public’s trust in a profession that does so many great things each and every day,” state Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said in a statement.
Each of the officers is charged with conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, according to a release from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.
Additionally, Dedmon is charged with home invasion and Elward is charged with home invasion and aggravated assault, the release says.
McAlpin, Middleton, Opdyk and Hartfield each face an additional charge of first-degree obstruction of justice, it says.
Local leaders call for sheriff to resign
Some community leaders are pushing for the resignation of Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey in the wake of the guilty pleas of his deputies.
“NAACP and the community feel like he has been negligent in his duties,” Rankin County NAACP President Angela English told CNN in a phone interview Thursday. She said Bailey “was elected to serve and protect all of the people, and he let the citizens of Rankin County down.”
The Rankin County NAACP also called for the US Department of Justice to further investigate the sheriff’s office.
“We are saying that, based on what we are beginning to understand about his leadership, he’s not worthy to even hold that position of sheriff,” said community organizer Kareem Muhammad at a news conference Wednesday.
Bailey said he does not plan on resigning in the wake of the shocking charges. “I am going to stay here,” he said. “I am going to fix these problems.
“The only thing I am guilty of on this incident right here is trusting grown men that swore an oath to do their job correctly,” he said. “I am guilty of that, but the people of Rankin County elected me to do a job during good times and during bad times. Yes, this is a bad time.”
The sheriff had no Republican challengers for the primary election this week and will run unopposed for the general election in November.
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