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Two of six officers in ‘Goon Squad’ attack sentenced, others set for this week

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

This combination of photos shows, 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 appearing at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Miss., Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. The six white former Mississippi law officers pleaded guilty to state charges on Monday for torturing two Black men in a racist assault that ended with a deputy shooting one victim in the mouth. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • Former Rankin County Sheriff’s Deputies Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton were sentenced to 20 years and 17.5 years, respectively, for their roles in last January’s warrantless raid.

In January of 2023, five members of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and one member of the Richland Police Department conducted a warrantless raid on a home in Braxton. During the course of the raid, the officers tortured and brutalized two Black men, Eddie Parker and Michael Corey Jenkins. All six of the officers, who have been labeled as part of a ‘Goon Squad,’ have been removed from duty. Each pled guilty to both federal and state charges last Fall in connection with the incident.

On Tuesday, two of the former officers, Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton, were sentenced in federal court. Their co-defendants will be sentenced on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Judge Tom S. Lee presided over the sentencing proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Elward, who during the course of the attack shot Jenkins through the mouth, faced upwards of 30 years in prison for his role. Judge Lee sentenced him on Tuesday morning to 241 months, or 20 years and one month.

Tuesday afternoon, Middleton came before Judge Lee for his sentencing. He received 210 months, or 17.5 years, in federal prison for his involvement. Any time given during state court sentencing hearings will be served concurrent, or at the same time, as the federal sentences.

Both former law enforcement officers also were ordered to pay restitution. Each will have to pay $48,000 to Jenkins and $31,500 to Parker.

On January 24, 2023, Elward and Middleton, along with Rankin County Deputies Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, and Daniel Opdyke and Richland Police Officer Joshua Hartfield illegally entered the Braxton residence, where they found Jenkins and Parker inside. The men were handcuffed, beaten, tased multiple times, and sexually assaulted with a dildo. The men were humiliated, with food being thrown on them, and subjected to racial taunts. Multiple gunshots occurred, including two by officer Dedmon in an attempt to intimidate Jenkins and Parker, and the shot by Elward that lacerated Jenkins tongue and shattered his jaw.

Text between the criminal defendants in the lead up to the attack demonstrated deliberate planning both to evade detection by cameras at the residence and to commit violence against its occupants.

After the assault, the victims were directed to strip and shower together, while the officers came up with a cover story to disguise their actions. The officers attempted to destroy evidence, including clothes worn by Jenkins and Parker during the attack and a hard drive with camera footage. They also produced drugs and a gun that they intended to plant on Jenkins and Parker, in an effort to justify the raid and the gunshot to Jenkins’ face. False drug charges were brought against the two men, but have since been dropped.

Jenkins said in a victim statement, read by his attorney, Malik Shabazz, that he can no longer sing or play drums in his church due to the injuries he suffered. “I never would have thought a night hanging out with friends would have nearly cost me my life,” Jenkins wrote.

During pre-sentencing, Elward offered an apology while making eye contact with both of his victims.

“I see you every day and night. I can’t go back and do what is right, I would have to go back seven years to the first time I saw this behavior,” Elward said. “I hear what you said. I see the way you looked. There is no telling what you see and I am sorry. I truly am. I am so sorry that I caused that.”

After Elward finished his apology, Parker stood up to say he forgave him. Jenkins later told reporters he could not forgive Elward, ‘because if he wouldn’t have been caught, he’d still be doing the same thing.” 

Middleton’s attorney, E. Carlos Tanner III, spent more than an hour arguing Middleton played a lesser part in the events that unfolded and should be given a lighter sentence.

Statements from the other officers involved that night identified Middleton as a ring leader for the “Goon Squad,” contending that they would not have been there that night had they not been enlisted by him, and that with his high rank as a lieutenant, he could have stopped the assault at any time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Chalk reminded the court that so-called “challenge coins” passed around within the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department bore the language “Lt. Middleton’s Goon Squad.”

After hearing all the evidence, Judge Lee sentenced Middleton to 17.5 years.

Middleton did submit an apology to the Court and the victims at the end of the hearing. In contrast to Elward, neither victim stood to say they accepted his apology or forgave him.

Elward received a larger sentence due to his part in shooting Jenkins during the incident.

Dedmon and Opdyke will be sentenced on Wednesday, March 20th, while Hartfield and McAlpin are set to appear on Thursday, March 21st. 

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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