Leader of ‘Goon Squad’ and Another Deputy Sentenced for Torture of Two Black Men; Four Former Officers Await Sentencing

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Two former White law enforcement officers from Mississippi, identified as members of a self-proclaimed “Goon Squad,” were sentenced by a federal judge on Tuesday for their involvement in the torture and abuse of two Black men in 2023. Additionally, four other former officers, also White, who pleaded guilty in the same case are scheduled for sentencing later this week.

Hunter Elward, a 31-year-old former sheriff’s deputy, received a 20-year prison sentence for shooting one of the victims, while Jeffrey Middleton, a 46-year-old former deputy described as the ringleader, was sentenced to over 17 years and six months in prison. These sentences were handed down in highly emotional hearings in federal court in Jackson on Tuesday.

The incident, which occurred on January 24, 2023, in Braxton near Jackson, came to light after victims Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. They accused the officers of illegally entering a woman’s home, where Parker was assisting with care, and subjecting them to handcuffing, kicking, waterboarding, tasering, and attempted sexual assault. The officers found no evidence of wrongdoing but inflicted severe physical and emotional harm on the victims.

The former officers, including Elward, Middleton, Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke, and Joshua Hartfield, pleaded guilty to federal charges including conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice related to the incident. The officers were part of a group known as “The Goon Squad,” which was characterized by its readiness to use excessive force and evade accountability.

The Justice Department revealed that Middleton had bragged about the group, even branding Rankin County Sheriff’s Department emblems with the words “Goon Squad,” featuring a Confederate flag and a noose.

During sentencing, Elward expressed remorse for his actions, apologizing to the victims and their families. However, Jenkins indicated that Elward’s apology meant little to him. Middleton, on the other hand, accepted responsibility for his actions but received a stern rebuke from the judge, who highlighted his supervisory role during the incident.

The victims, Jenkins and Parker, detailed the lasting trauma they endured, expressing doubts about ever fully recovering from the ordeal. Jenkins, in particular, stated that the night changed him irreversibly and left him struggling with physical and emotional scars.

In addition to their federal convictions, the former officers also pleaded guilty to state charges and await sentencing on those counts. The Justice Department and Mississippi Attorney General’s Office are both committed to pursuing justice for the victims and restoring confidence in the criminal justice system.

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