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A fourth former Mississippi officer is sentenced to 40 years in racially charged torture cases

Pictured are Christian Dedmon, left, and Daniel Opdyke. The latter was sentenced by a federal judge Wednesday to more than 17 years in prison. | Rogelio V. Solis, AP via CNN Newsource
JACKSON, Mississippi (CNN) — A fourth former Mississippi law enforcement officer who pleaded guilty to torturing two Black men was sentenced to 40 years in prison Wednesday, as accounts of the horrifying brutality of a self-styled “Goon Squad” of deputies gripped a federal courtroom.
A judge imposed the harshest sentence so far on former Rankin County sheriff’s deputy Christian Dedmon, saying he committed the most “shocking, brutal and cruel acts imaginable.”
Details of a nightmare of racially motivated beatings, torture, sexual assaults and even a mock execution in January 2023 unfolded for a second day as victims came face-to-face with their tormentors, and each of the rogue former officers was sentenced for what the FBI director described as “atrocious” acts of “pure hell.”
The emotional sentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon, under heavy courtroom security, focused on Dedmon and his sexual assault on one of the victims. An officer with the US Marshals Service told people in court to keep control over their emotions, saying the hearing would be highly contentious.
Dedmon was part of a squad of White Mississippi law enforcement officers who raided a home in Braxton without a warrant, subjected the two Black men – Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins – to racist vitriol, used Tasers on them after they had already been handcuffed, beat them with various objects and then shot Jenkins in the mouth.
All six former officers pleaded guilty in August to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice. They include Daniel Opdyke; his fellow former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Jeffrey Middleton and Brett McAlpin; and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield. Each of the deputies resigned or were fired.
For the first time this week, Parker spoke before the judge, giving his victim impact statement at Dedmon’s hearing. He told CNN before the hearing: “I have to, because Dedmon was the most abusive one.”
“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.”
“He tried to take me, man,” Parker said, wiping away tears.
Opdyke, the third former Mississippi law enforcement officers sentenced this week, earlier Wednesday received a 17-year prison term in another highly emotional hearing. At Opdyke’s sentencing, his attorney pointed to Dedmon as the “guy who had this demented sexual perversion.”
Two other former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies, Elward and Middleton, learned their fates Tuesday. Elward, who shot Jenkins in the mouth, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and gave an emotional apology to the victims in court. Middleton was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison.
The final two defendants, Hartfield and McAlpin, will be sentenced on Thursday. In addition to their federal charges, the six defendants also face a bevy of state charges for which they await sentencing.
US District Court Judge Tom Lee, a seasoned jurist, has navigated this emotionally charged case with a calm, steady demeanor and in a precise manner. He has granted the defendants’ attorneys the opportunity to present their case while ensuring they maintain respect for the victims. In court, both the attorneys and the victims appear to be attuned to the judge’s nonverbal cues.
When sentencing the defendants, Lee said he has to take into account, “What the community and victims deserve.”
Jim Rosenblatt, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, told CNN that Lee “is very respected in the Mississippi legal community and is known to be a fair and considerate judge.”
“He is willing to make rulings and move cases along,” Rosenblatt said. “He is a man of impeccable character and is honest, humble, and forthright.”
‘He hid behind his gun and badge’

Federal prosecutors said Dedmon, 29, 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.
“His acts are egregious, serious, lawless,” the prosecutor said.
Dedmon’s family was present in the courtroom. Some cried and closed their eyes as prosecutors recounted his conduct.
The disgraced former deputy addressed the court before sentencing, but – unlike the three ex-cops before him – Dedmon did not address the victims directly or make eye contact.
“The lies, the pain I caused them, I will never forgive myself for. If I could take everything back, I promise that I would. I got into law enforcement, not as a devil. I really wanted to make a difference,” Dedmon said.
After the hearing, attorneys and relatives of the victims praised the sentence.
“This is a remarkable and historic moment for the state of Mississippi and the United States of America and victims of police brutality and police abuse,” the victims’ attorney Malik Shabazz told reporters.
Shabazz earlier Wednesday called Dedmon “oppressive” and “sick.” Federal prosecutors described Dedmon as the most sexually perverted of the six former officers and subjected them to the most egregious sexual acts.
Melvin Jenkins, father of Michael Jenkins, said, “I’ve lived in Mississippi 68 years, and I’ve never seen justice like this.” He thanked Judge Lee and said the sentence was “something unheard of” in the state.
The former deputy pleaded guilty in August to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice related to the incident.
Dedmon was also sentenced in the same proceeding on a federal charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence related to a separate incident in December 2022. He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison on the weapons charge.
The Justice Department said in an August news release 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.”
“Six White law enforcement officers committed some absolutely unspeakable crimes,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday after the first two officers were sentenced. “It’s hard to imagine a more atrocious set of civil rights violations than those carried out by these guys.”
Youngest officer breaks down in court

At least several of the disgraced officers – 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.
Now, Opdyke’s attorney is blaming other members of the “Goon Squad,” accusing them of influencing his client.
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.
During the sentencing hearing for Opdyke, the visibly emotional former officer addressed the court and the victims directly as he sobbed, wiped away tears and paused throughout his statement to them.
“I cannot fathom how I fell so easily in line, going along with and actively participating in the use of excessive force against Mr. Parker and Mr. Jenkins,” Opdyke said. He then turned to Parker, who was crying with his head between his legs.
“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.
The judge also ordered Opdyke to undergo mental health treatment, including anger management, as well as alcohol and drug treatment. The ex-deputy was also ordered to pay $79,500 in restitution to the victims.
Opdyke’s attorneys argued during his hearing on Wednesday he should get only seven years in prison because of the extensive sexual and physical abuse he endured as a child at the hands of his father.
“His history of abandonment by both parents, his own father raped him until he was 8 years old. Daniel has no memory before he was 8 years old,” one of his attorneys said.
And for the first time in court, it was revealed that Opdyke was the officer who turned over the text messages from the “Goon Squad” group chat, which was on the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, to the federal government on April 12, 2023.
Opdyke’s attorney said that information “substantially” assisted the Justice Department’s investigation into the incident and “directly contributed” to the defendants’ decision to plead guilty.
Attorney calls disgraced cops ‘cult leaders’

In October 2022, as the newest officer among the group of six, Opdyke was invited by Middleton to be on the “Goon Squad,” his attorney said. “They brought him into the inner circle, put him on the text thread. They accepted him,” he said.
“Daniel documented decades of barging into homes in the middle of the night, torturing people to elicit a confession, forcing guns or Tasers into people’s mouths, sexually assaulting people with sex toys, waterboarding, tasing suspects’ genitals, punching them in the face,” the attorney said. “When a new officer starts to work over there, they start indoctrinating.”
Opdyke’s attorney said he called the Justice Department after his client turned over the text messages because he was afraid co-defendant “Elward was going to kill him.”
“By May 2023, he couldn’t take it anymore. He was disgusted at himself, quit the sheriff’s department – none of the rest of them did that. It was like being in a cult,” the attorney said. “As soon as he got away from the cult, the cult leaders McAlpin and Middleton, he was able to think straight, and he was disgusted with himself about what he did. He told the full story.”
‘I also failed you … I was the perpetrator’

Moments after Parker, in tears, walked out of the courtroom during Opdyke’s testimony, the former officer looked at Jenkins and spoke to him directly: “Mr. Jenkins, I also failed you. I hit you and tried to force a sex toy in your mouth,” the former officer said.
“I know that after that night, you will never be the same. I could’ve tried to stop it, but I didn’t,” he continued.
Jenkins stared ahead as Opdyke broke down in tears. He showed no emotion. The victim’s attorney wrapped his arm around him.
Opdyke then asked his victims for forgiveness.
“I regret my actions wholeheartedly, and I hope each of you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” Opdyke said. “Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker were innocent victims, and I was the perpetrator.”
He then walked away sobbing, red in the face and looking down, with shackles around his waist and wrists.
How the torture unfolded

In January 2023, the officers went to a home in Braxton after a neighbor reported several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home and reported seeing suspicious behavior.
On the night of January 24, without a search warrant, the six law enforcement officers “kicked in the door of a home where two Black men were staying and subjected them to an hour and a half of hell,” the FBI director said.
Parker was “a long-time friend” of the White homeowner who was living at the home and helping take care of her, federal prosecutors said. Jenkins was living at the home temporarily.
Despite having no probable cause to believe either had committed a crime, the six officers “handcuffed and arrested the men, kicked and beat them, bombarded them with racial slurs, forced them to strip naked, assaulted them with a variety of objects, tased them … 17 times, and fired their guns to intimidate them,” Wray said.
“But that wasn’t enough for these guys,” the FBI director said. “One of them had the idea to stage a mock execution. So he took his weapon and secretly removed a bullet from the chamber. Then he put the barrel into one victim’s mouth and pulled the trigger, dry-firing the gun.”
“Then he did it again — but this time, the gun didn’t dry-fire. It discharged, sending a bullet into the victim’s mouth, lacerating his tongue, and breaking his jaw,” Wray said.
“Can you imagine the abject terror those two victims must have felt? I mean, who do you call when the police are the ones terrorizing you?”
While Jenkins was bleeding on the floor from the gunshot wound, the officers didn’t render aid, Wray said.
“Instead, they came up with a cover story and then took steps to corroborate it,” including planting a gun on one of the victims, he said.
Ex-cop apologizes to victims: ‘I hate myself’

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for Elward, who shot Jenkins in the mouth, the former deputy apologized to his victims in court.
“Mr. Jenkins, I see you every day and every night. I’m so doggone sorry,” Elward said.
“There’s no telling what you’ve seen. I’m so sorry that I caused that. I hate myself for it. I hate that I gave you that. I accept all responsibility.”
Jenkins nodded. Parker stood up and replied: “We forgive you, man.”
But Jenkins told CNN after the hearing that Elward’s apology “meant nothing” to him.
Middleton, during his own sentencing, told the court he accepted responsibility for what he did.
“I made some very poor, life-changing decisions. They were morally and legally wrong,” he said while apologizing to Jenkins, Parker and their families, as well as his family and the people of Rankin County, where he had been a deputy and was the supervisor the night of the incident.
In his victim impact statement, read by attorney Shabazz, Parker said he didn’t think Middleton was sorry.
“I’m offended that Jeffrey Middleton is not apologetic, and is trying to make light of his role in these torture sessions, and crimes,” he said. “He used a sword to hit me.”
What we know about another victim’s case

New details are emerging about another disturbing case that several of the ex-officers have also pleaded guilty to.
Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke pleaded guilty in federal court to felonies related to a separate incident in December 2022, according to the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Elward was sentenced for a federal charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law related to the December 2022 incident. The other two former officers are expected to be sentenced this week.
The three former deputies pleaded guilty to the incident involving a person only referred to as “A.S.” in court documents.
The victim was identified by federal prosecutors in court on Tuesday as Alan Schmidt, who previously told The New York Times the then-deputies pulled him over in December 2022 for an expired tag, only to accuse him of stealing tools.
Schmidt told the Times the “Goon Squad” members assaulted him, beat him and tased him. He said one deputy rubbed his genital and buttocks against his head.
The three ex-officers accused in Schmidt’s case – Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke – have all pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color or law. They entered plea agreements last July.
Dedmon pleaded to two additional charges related to the incident, including discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence and a second count of deprivation of rights.
During Dedmon’s sentencing hearing, he told the court that he directed Elward and Opdyke to conduct a traffic stop on Schmidt because a relative falsely accused the man of stealing something from him. Federal prosecutors described how Dedmon “grabbed and squeezed” Schmidt’s genitalia and threatened to kill him.
The deprivation of rights charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to court documents. The firearms charge carries a minimum 10-year sentence.
Court documents reviewed by CNN also said: “Dedmon discharged a firearm in close proximity to A.S. for the purpose of scaring and coercing a confession.”
A statement from Schmidt was read by federal prosecutors in court during sentencing hearings for the “Goon Squad.”
“I pray every day that I can forgive them. I know I’m not their only victim. It will take years to live a somewhat normal life,” Schmidt’s statement said.
“I thought the assault would go on forever,” the statement said. “The harder I prayed, the harder I was beaten.”
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The post A fourth former Mississippi officer is sentenced to 40 years in racially charged torture cases appeared first on East Idaho News.
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