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Former Mississippi police officer sentenced to 20 years in federal assault case

A former Mississippi law enforcement officer who was part of a group that called itself the “Goon Squad,” according to prosecutors, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on U.S. civil rights charges for brutally assaulting two Black men, including shooting one in the mouth, local media reported.

Hunter Elward, who pled guilty last year, was the first of six white former law enforcement officers involved to be sentenced over the next three days in a U.S. District Court in Mississippi. The men are charged with several federal crimes including deprivation of rights and obstruction of justice.

“I don’t think any commentary is necessary because it’s so apparent the egregious and despicable nature of the crimes,” District Judge Tom Lee, said as he sentenced Elward to 241 months, according to WLBT News, an NBC affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi.

Elward was among five former Rankin County, Mississippi sheriff’s deputies involved. The sixth man was a police officer in Richland, Mississippi.

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According to federal prosecutors, Elward along with Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke and Richland officer Joshua Hartfield – went to a home in Braxton, Mississippi, without a search warrant on Jan. 24, 2023.

The sheriff’s office had received a complaint from a white neighbor that they had seen “suspicious behavior” from the Black men living at the residence, according to court documents.

After entering the home without warning or probable cause, the officers detained the men, demanding to know “where the drugs were,” court documents said.

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For nearly two hours, the officers physically and sexually assaulted Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker while screaming racial slurs at the handcuffed men, according to court documents.

Jenkins and Parker filed a $400 million federal civil rights lawsuit against Rankin County last June.

Dedmon then stuck a pistol in Jenkins’ mouth in a “mock execution” that went wrong when he pulled the trigger, court records showed. Jenkins’ jaw was shattered and his tongue lacerated.

“Daniel has accepted responsibility for his actions and failures to act,” Opdyke’s attorneys said in a statement. He “has admitted he was wrong, and feels deep remorse for the pain he caused the victims.”

Attorneys for the other men were not immediately available for comment.

Middleton’s hearing is scheduled for later on Tuesday. Opdyke and Dedmon are scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, and Hartfield and McAlpin on Thursday.

The guilty pleas in federal court in August were entered as part of a larger agreement that included guilty pleas to state charges. A date has not yet been set for the sentencing in the state case.

The men will serve their sentences in the two cases concurrently.

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Black residents in poor areas in the county said they are routinely targets of similar police violence, a New York Times, Mississippi Today investigation found.

In response, Mississippi lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would allow state officials to investigate and revoke the police license of officers accused of misconduct, regardless if they have been charged.

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By BRENDAN O'BRIEN

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