CNN, WAPT, WLBT
By Devon M. Sayers and Zoe Sottile, CNN
(CNN) — A Mississippi sheriff said he was “ashamed” and apologized after five of his former deputies pleaded guilty to charges related to the torture of two Black men.
Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey said the police badge was “tarnished by the criminal acts of these few individuals” at a news conference hours after the five former deputies pleaded guilty Thursday. A sixth former officer from the Richland, Mississippi, police department also pleaded guilty.
“These guys were so far past any boundary. It is unbelievable what they did,” said Bailey. “This is a bunch of criminals that did a home invasion.”
The two victims, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, filed a federal lawsuit in June, claiming the six White law enforcement officers illegally entered their home in Braxton, Mississippi and tortured them for nearly two hours. The lawsuit said the officers handcuffed, kicked, waterboarded, and attempted to sexually assault Jenkins and Parker. The assault culminated with one deputy placing a gun in Jenkins’ mouth and shooting him, which the lawsuit says has left permanent physical injuries, cognitive damage, and long-term psychological damage.
“All of the former deputies lied to me, that night of this incident,” the sheriff said. “I am sick to my stomach … I have tried to build a reputation, tried to have a safe county. They have robbed me of all of this, by the actions of these few.”
“This is a perfect example of why people don’t trust the police,” he added. “Never in my life did I think this would happen in this department.”
He also apologized to Jenkins and Parker as well as the Rankin County community.
Bailey said he knew the five Rankin County officers well and he “never ever could imagine that any of these five individuals were capable of these horrendous crimes that they committed.”
Court documents name the six law enforcement officers involved as Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke, and Joshua Hartfield. The charges include discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, according to online federal court records.
The sheriff said he terminated three deputies in late June after one of the deputies disclosed some of the details of the incident. Two of the deputies had already resigned from the department by then, the sheriff added.
Bailey called the attack “a nightmare for law enforcement.”
“This is the most horrible incident of police brutality of my whole career,” he said. “And I am ashamed that it happened at this department.”
Bailey said he does not plan on resigning in the wake of the shocking charges. “I am going to stay here,” he said. “I am going to fix these problems.
“The only thing I am guilty of on this incident right here is trusting grown men that swore an oath to do their job correctly,” he said. “I am guilty of that, but the people of Rankin County elected me to do a job during good times and during bad times. Yes, this is a bad time.”
“I am embarrassed and ashamed of what they have done to this badge,” he went on, with his hand over a badge embroidered on his shirt.
The sheriff said he was unaware the deputies had dubbed themselves “The Goon Squad” until last week. A federal charging document says the officers chose the name to reflect their “willingness to use excessive force and not to report it.”
Bailey said he hadn’t thought there were any cultural problems at the department before the attack came to light. “Obviously one thing I need to do is make people more accountable,” he said. “I am going to fix this.”
The sheriff said there may be additional victims and asked potential victims to call the FBI or state authorities to report incidents.
Bailey emphasized the six involved officers worked to cover up the incident.
“If one of the six officers there would have stood up and said something, if they would have told the truth … their cover-up made it 20 times worse,” he said. “It was already horrible, don’t get me wrong, everything done to those victims was horrible. But then for a law enforcement officer to cover, to lie, it makes me sick to my stomach.”
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