Six white former law enforcement officers in Mississippi pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal civil rights offenses several months after they raided a home where prosecutors said two Black men were handcuffed, beaten and shocked with Tasers.
One of the men was shot in the mouth during a “mock execution,” and a sex toy was forced into the other man’s mouth, federal prosecutors said. After the assault, the officers tried to cover up the attack and plant evidence, prosecutors said.
In federal court in Jackson, Miss., the former officers pleaded guilty to felony offenses that included civil rights conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, according to Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, which also announced state charges against the officers.
The former officers face varying sentences, but some could receive life in prison when they are sentenced in November, prosecutors said.
“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,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
The officers include five former members of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office — Brett McAlpin, 52; Christian Dedmon, 28; Jeffrey Middleton, 46; Hunter Elward, 31; and Daniel Opdyke, 27, — and one former member of the Richland Police Department, Joshua Hartfield, 31. Richland is in Rankin County, in central Mississippi near Jackson, the state capital.
Three of the officers — Mr. Middleton, Mr. Elward and Mr. Opdyke — called themselves members of “the goon squad,” because of their “willingness to use excessive force and not to report it,” a federal complaint states.
The two Black men were identified only by their initials in federal court documents. But they had previously been identified as Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker in a federal lawsuit that they filed in June that accused six Rankin County officers of beating them over the course of nearly two hours.
According to federal prosecutors, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker had been staying at a ranch-style home in Braxton, Miss., that was owned by a white woman who was a longtime friend of Mr. Parker’s.
On Jan. 24, Mr. McAlpin received a complaint from his white neighbor that “several” Black men were staying at the house and that the neighbor had observed “suspicious behavior” there, the complaint states.
Mr. McAlpin contacted Mr. Dedmon, who reached out to members of “the goon squad,” the complaint states.
“Are y’all available for a mission?” Mr. Dedmon texted them, the complaint states.
That night, the six officers raided the home without a warrant, as several of them kicked in the back door and a carport door, the complaint states.
The officers handcuffed Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker and repeatedly shocked them with Tasers, the complaint states. Mr. Parker was also kicked in the ribs. Mr. Dedmon “demanded to know where the drugs were” and fired a shot into the back of the house, the complaint states. Mr. Parker replied that there were no drugs.
The officers hurled racial slurs at the men, accused them of “taking advantage” of the white woman who owned the house and told them to “go back to Jackson or to ‘their side’ of the Pearl River, areas with higher concentrations of Black residents,” the complaint states.
In the house, Mr. Opdyke put a sex toy on the end of a BB gun, forced it into Mr. Parker’s mouth and tried to force it into Mr. Jenkins’s mouth, according to the complaint. While the men were handcuffed, they were held down while milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup were poured onto their faces and into their mouths, the complaint states.
The men were then ordered to strip naked and to shower off to wash away evidence of the abuse before they were taken to jail, the complaint states.
After they had showered, the men were beaten with a wooden kitchen tool and a metal sword. The officers repeatedly jolted the men with Tasers again.
Mr. Jenkins was also subjected to what federal prosecutors described as a mock execution, the complaint states. It states that Mr. Elward forced Mr. Jenkins onto his knees, stuck an unloaded gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He then racked the slide, intending to “dry-fire” the gun a second time, the complaint states. But when Mr. Elward put the gun back into Mr. Jenkins’s mouth and pulled the trigger, he fired a bullet that lacerated Mr. Jenkins’s tongue, broke his jaw and exited through his neck, the complaint states.
As Mr. Jenkins was bleeding on the floor, the officers gathered outside the home to devise a cover story and took steps to cover up their crimes by planting a gun on Mr. Jenkins; destroying surveillance video, spent shell casings and Taser cartridges; and submitting fraudulent drug evidence to the crime lab, the Justice Department said.
Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said at a news conference on Thursday evening that the case was a stark reminder that although much progress had been made in Mississippi over the past several decades, there was still “much to be done to root out law enforcement misconduct, especially when that misconduct is motivated in part by the color of the victims’ skin.”
The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it employs about 230 men and women “who report to work every day and perform their duties in accordance with department standards.”
“Based on today’s arrests, five former deputies violated all such standards, their training” and the office’s expectations, Sheriff Bryan Bailey said in the statement. “The badge worn by so many has been tarnished by the criminal acts of these few individuals.”
The Richland Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jeff Reynolds, a lawyer for Mr. Opdyke, said that “Mr. Opdyke has taken responsibility for his wrongdoing in this case and pleaded guilty to multiple federal crimes.”
“He admits he was wrong for his part in the horrific harms inflicted upon Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, the victims, that night last January and is prepared to face the consequences of his actions,” Mr. Reynolds said in an email.
Mr. Hartfield’s lawyers, Vicki Gilliam and Robert Lingold, said that federal officials had “acted swiftly to build their case.”
“Josh quickly reacted with a desire to enter his plea of guilty, without the need for indictment,” Ms. Gilliam and Mr. Lingold said in a statement. “As his defense counsel, we will be working toward achieving the best appropriate outcome for him in his upcoming sentencing.”
Lawyers for Mr. Dedmon, Mr. McAlpin, Mr. Middleton and Mr. Elward did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
Malik Shabazz, a lawyer for Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, said the guilty pleas were “historic for justice against rogue police torture and police brutality in Rankin County and all over America.”
“Significant time behind bars is ahead for all defendants,” he said in a statement. “Today is truly historic for Mississippi and for civil and human rights in America.”
Melvin Jenkins, Mr. Jenkins’s father, said that he was glad that the former officers had pleaded guilty.
“I’m so glad that justice was carried out, and maybe this will help other families,” Mr. Jenkins said in an interview on Thursday.
“I know it won’t put an end to it,” he added, but “maybe another family won’t have to bury their child or go through what we went through.”
Mr. Jenkins said that while his son’s physical condition was slowly improving, he still had “a long way to go.”