2 former Mississippi officers sentenced after pleading guilty to torture of Black men

ByDeena Zaru ABCNews logo
Tuesday, March 19, 2024
2 former Mississippi officers sentenced for torture of Black men
Former Mississippi officers Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton were sentenced for the torture of Black men Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker.

RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. -- Former Rankin County, Mississippi, sheriff's deputies Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton were sentenced in federal court on Tuesday after pleading guilty, along with five additional former law enforcement officers, to a total of 16 charges related to the January 2023 torture of two Black men.

Elward, who pleaded guilty to the most serious charge in the indictment -- discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence -- was sentenced to 241 months, or about 20 years, according to the Department of Justice.

"I hate myself for it," Elward said during the sentencing hearing, according to Jackson ABC affiliate WAPT. "I accept my responsibility."

Middleton was sentenced to 17.5 years or 210 months in prison for his role in the incident, according to the Department of Justice. The remaining four officers who pleaded guilty in this case will be sentenced during hearings on Wednesday and Thursday.

Michael Jenkins, who was shot in the mouth by Elward during the incident, spoke to WAPT on Tuesday afternoon after Elward stood up and apologized to him in court.

"I'm glad he looked at me. I'm glad he see me," Jenkins said, adding that while he "feels sorry" for Elward's family, the former officer got "what he deserved."

Eddie Parker, the second victim in the case, told Elward in court on Tuesday that he forgave him for his actions, according to WAPT, and said that he is "satisfied" with the sentence.

Asked about his decision to forgive Elward, Parker said, "For what is given and what is done, I forgive that part, but other than that, he still did what he did and he has to be punished."

"I always stand up for justice and for what's right," he added.

Asked if he also forgives Elward, Jenkins told WAPT, "I don't know. No, no, because if he wouldn't have got caught he'd still be doing the same thing."

Former Rankin County sheriff's deputies Elward, Middleton, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin and Daniel Opdyke, along with Joshua Hartfield, a former Richland police officer, pleaded guilty to 16 federal charges related to the torture and physical abuse of three Rankin County men in two unrelated incidents, according to a statement released by U.S. Department of Justice on Aug. 3, 2023.

The charges include 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. The former officers agreed to sentences ranging from five to 30 years as recommended by prosecutors, but the judge is not bound by the agreement, according to The Associated Press.

According to the charging documents, the incident on Jan. 24, 2023, took place when a white neighbor claimed in a complaint to McAlpin, the chief RCSO investigator, that she observed "suspicious activity" from Black men staying at a nearby property.

McAlpin asked Dedmon, who was an RCSO investigator at the time, to look into the incident, and Dedmon proceeded to reach out to a group of shift officers who called themselves "The Goon Squad" because of their "willingness to use excessive force and not report it," according to the documents.

During the incident, the officers beat Jenkins and Parker, sexually assaulted them with a sex toy and shocked them with Tasers for roughly 90 minutes while handcuffed, according to court documents obtained by ABC News. Jenkins was also shot in the mouth by Elward, per the DOJ.

And while Jenkins was bleeding on the floor, instead of providing medical aid, the officers "devised a false cover story to cover up their misconduct" and proceeded to "plant" and "tamper with evidence" to corroborate their story, the DOJ 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," DOJ Sec. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement on Aug. 3, 2023. "The Justice Department will hold accountable officers who abuse the public trust that is essential to public safety."

The officers admitted that on Jan. 24, 2023, they entered a home where Jenkins and Parker were staying in Braxton, Rankin County, Mississippi, where they handcuffed and arrested the two men "without probable cause to believe they had committed any crime, called them racial slurs, and warned them to stay out of Rankin County," the DOJ said in a statement on Aug. 3, 2023, announcing the guilty pleas.

According to the federal charging documents obtained by ABC News, sentencing maximums range from three years in prison for lesser offenses to life in prison for the most serious offense of discharging of a firearm during a crime of violence.

The two victims -- Jenkins and Parker -- spoke out during a press conference Monday morning about the enduring trauma of the experience as their attorneys called on the judge to give the former officers the "maximum sentence."

"I'd like to thank everybody for supporting us and believing in us," said Jenkins, who was shot in the mouth during the incident. "It's been very hard for me this past year. I'm just looking forward to justice tomorrow. I hope they do right. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

Parker, who is set to testify during the sentencing hearings this week, per his attorney, said that it's been a "hard year," and he's glad that the day of sentencing, which was delayed twice before, has finally come.

"Everything needs to be done right because everything was done wrong," Parker said. "What's done already, man, can't be erased; it can't be taken back. I relive this every day."

Malik Shabazz, the lead attorney for Jenkins and Parker, said that his clients have "been through a lot of trauma" and called on U.S. District Judge Tom Lee to give each of the former officers the "maximum sentence."

"The day of justice has finally come," he said. "That's an important day, not only in Mississippi, but this is an important day for accountability for police brutality, all throughout America. Police officers are watching this sentencing ... they're watching to see whether law enforcement in Mississippi and law enforcement in America will be held sufficiently accountable for their acts of torture and brutality," he added.

The officers have not responded to ABC News' requests for comment.

Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke also pleaded guilty to three additional federal felony offenses related to a separate incident that took place on Dec. 4, 2022, per the DOJ.

The U.S. The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the incident in Feb. 2023, along with the FBI, amid outrage from the community and as attorneys for Jenkins and Parker filed a notice of claim for a $400 million federal lawsuit. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation also investigated the case that led to state charges against the officers.

"It's in court, and we're fighting," Shabazz told ABC News on Monday when asked about the status of the lawsuit.

In an October 2023 response to the complaint obtained by ABC News, the officers denied the allegations alleged in the lawsuit.

ABC News' Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.