Tasers, taunts, torment: How 6 White officers subjected 2 Black men to hours of grueling violence, and then tried to cover it up
Editor’s Note: This article contains disturbing language and graphic descriptions of assault.
On the evening of January 24, three sheriff’s deputies in Rankin County, Mississippi, received a group text message from another deputy on the same shift: “Are y’all available for a mission?”
The deputy, Christian Dedmon, informed his colleagues Hunter Elward, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke they were going to a property in Braxton, roughly 30 miles south of Jackson, to handle a complaint received by the office’s chief investigator, Brett McAlpin. The details of what prosecutors say happened that night were shared in a federal charging document.
McAlpin’s White neighbor had told him several Black men were staying at a White woman’s home there and reported seeing suspicious behavior.
Dedmon warned the deputies there might be surveillance cameras on the property. If they spotted any cameras, the officers should knock on the door instead of kicking it down. But if not, he told them they had free rein to barge in without a warrant.
“No bad mugshots,” Dedmon added in another text. The other deputies understood what he meant: They had the green light to use “excessive force” on areas of a person’s body that would not be captured in a mugshot, prosecutors said.
Dedmon told the others over the radio another man, off-duty Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield, would also accompany them. In four separate cars, the five men pulled into the driveway of the four-bedroom, ranch-style home. McAlpin was already in the neighborhood, watching the property from down the street, and followed behind.
The deputies avoided a surveillance camera above the front door. Dedmon, Opdyke and Elward broke open the carport door and Hartfield kicked open the back door.
Entering the home without a warrant, the officers encountered two Black men: Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins. Parker was living there to help take care of the woman who owned the property. Jenkins, his friend, was staying there temporarily.
Over the next two hours, Parker and Jenkins were subjected to grueling violence at the hands of the six White law enforcement officers, culminating in Jenkins being shot in the mouth.
The horrors the two men endured—as well as the text messages and other details in this report—were included in the federal court document filed on July 31. The six officers were charged with a combined 13 felonies in connection with “the torture and physical abuse” of the two men that night, the Justice Department said in a news release. The officers, who had been fired or had resigned after the incident, pleaded guilty to all charges against them in federal court last Thursday.
Some of the officers involved even called themselves “The Goon Squad” because of their willingness to “use excessive force” and not report it, according to the federal document.
The former officers are also facing state charges – all six are facing a charge of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, four with obstruction of justice in the first degree, two are charged with home invasion, and one with aggravated assault – and are expected to plead guilty on August 14 as part of the plea deal, according to Mississippi Deputy Attorney General Mary Helen Wall.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “No human being should ever be subjected to the kind of torturous, traumatizing and horrific acts of violence that were carried out by these law enforcement officers.”
The invasion and assault
After the officers entered the Conerly Road home that night, neither Jenkins nor Parker resisted.
The federal charging document describes how the two men were tased, handcuffed and then tased again and again.
Dedmon demanded Parker tell him where drugs were stashed in the house, and Parker said there were no drugs. Pulling out his gun, Dedmon fired a bullet into the wall of the adjoining laundry room before ordering Parker a second time to reveal the drugs. Parker, again, insisted there were no drugs.
The officers then hauled the two men into the living room where all six men spewed racial slurs at them and accused them of taking advantage of the White woman who owned the house. They warned them to stay out of Rankin County and go back to “their side” of the Pearl River, referring to neighborhoods with a higher population of Black residents. Dedmon repeatedly drive-stunned Jenkins – placing the Taser in direct contact with his body – while the two Black men were being taunted.
Meanwhile, Opdyke searched the house and kicked open a bedroom door where he found a dildo and a BB gun. Opdyke mounted the dildo on the end of the gun and brought it into the living room.
Dedmon took the dildo and slapped Jenkins and Parker in the face with it. He threatened to rape the men with the device, but stopped when he realized Jenkins had defecated on himself.
Elward then held Jenkins and Parker down on the floor of the living room while Dedmon poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup into their mouths. Dedmon poured cooking grease on Parker’s head. Elward threw eggs at both men.
The officers next forced them to disrobe and shower together “to wash away evidence of abuse” before they were brought to jail, the charging document said.
The abuse continued in a bedroom, where Opdyke, Middleton, Dedmon and McAlpin assaulted Parker with pieces of wood and a metal sword.
Dedmon, Middleton, Hartfield and Elward then began to tase the two men repeatedly to see “which (Taser) was the most powerful,” the document said. Elward’s Taser was discharged eight times; Hartfield’s five; and Dedmon’s four.
Then, Dedmon fired into the yard.
Elward removed a bullet from his gun, forced Jenkins onto his knees and put the gun into his mouth. Elward fired the gun, which did not discharge.
He racked the slide, put the gun back in Elward’s mouth and pulled the trigger again.
The bullet lacerated Jenkins’ tongue, broke his jaw and went out through his neck.
The cover story
Jenkins lay bleeding on the floor as the officers convened on the back porch to devise a cover story, the federal charging document said.
The six officers would tell investigators Dedmon found bags of drugs on Jenkins outside the house, and the officers ran inside after Jenkins. They would say Elward shot him in self-defense, and Elward was the only officer in the house at the time.
The officers began to destroy the evidence. Middleton offered to “plant a ‘throw-down’ gun” he had in his patrol car on Jenkins, the document said. Elward instead planted the BB gun that had been used earlier with the dildo – all while Jenkins was still bleeding and not receiving medical attention.
They discarded one shell casing, and Hartfield threw the men’s soiled clothes into a wooded area and then stole the hard drive from the home’s surveillance system before throwing it into a creek.
McAlpin and Middleton threatened to kill the four other officers if they ever told the truth about what happened that night.
Each of the six officers filed false reports to corroborate their cover story and continued to abide by the false script in interviews with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which initially investigated the incident as an officer-involved shooting, according to a January 25 news release from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
That news release gave no hint of what the victims would later detail. At the time, local officials said the officers were at the home for drug enforcement activities.
In late June, Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey announced some of his office’s deputies had been fired, although he did not confirm the number or their names. The false charges that had been filed against Jenkins and Parker were dropped at the time of the officers’ firing.
‘Justice is what it all boils down to’
Parker and Jenkins laid out the details of that night in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in mid-June, alleging six White deputies had turned off their body cameras and handcuffed, kicked, waterboarded, punched, repeatedly used Tasers on the two men, called them racial slurs and threatened to rape them.
“In their repeated use of racial slurs in the course of their violent acts, (the deputies) were oppressive and hateful against their African- American victims. Defendants were motivated on the basis of race and the color of the skin of the persons they assaulted,” the lawsuit states.
When emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene, Jenkins was taken to a hospital and underwent multiple surgeries. He has suffered permanent physical injuries and cognitive damage, including disfigurement and impairment, according to the civil lawsuit. Parker also sought medical attention for injuries suffered during the incident, it said.
The five Rankin County officers were under the purview of Sheriff Bailey, who is among the named defendants in the victims’ civil lawsuit filed in June.
An attorney representing Sheriff Bailey in the victims’ civil lawsuit declined to comment on the case when contacted by CNN on Wednesday.
In the state case, each of the six former officers are charged with conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, according to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. Dedmon is charged with home invasion and Elward is charged with home invasion and aggravated assault.
CNN contacted the attorneys for each of the six men seeking comment on the state charges against them but did not receive a response from those representing McAlpin and Dedmon. Attorneys for Middleton, Elward and Hartfield declined to comment on the case.
An attorney for Opdyke said the former officer “has admitted to his wrongdoing” and will plead guilty to all charges against him in in Rankin County Circuit Court on August 14.
“He takes responsibility for his part in the horrific harms perpetrated on Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, the victims, and is prepared to face the consequences of his misconduct,” reads a statement to CNN from Opdyke’s attorney, Jeffery Reynolds.
Bailey said during a Thursday news conference he was “ashamed,” and the badge of law enforcement was “tarnished by the criminal acts of these few individuals.”
The sheriff also said he does not plan to resign in the wake of the charges against the six officers. Bailey is not facing any charges in connection with the incident.
“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.
During an interview with CNN’s Ryan Young in June, Jenkins and Parker said they had tried to tell their story in the months leading up to the lawsuit but were often not believed.
“It was hard,” Parker said. “You’re going up against guys whose careers are to be trustworthy … That’s something I never thought I would experience.”
Jenkins, who struggles to speak because of his injuries, said he’s angry at what was done to him and his friend. “It hurts,” he said. “And I’m embarrassed.”
As he spoke to CNN inside the house where the incident took place, Parker said, “It’s hard to stand right here, knowing what happened right here. … Justice is what it all boils down to. I’m just like them, you know, whether they are in uniform or not.”
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