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Story Publication logo April 10, 2024

‘Goon Squad’ Officers Rack Up State Sentences in Mississippi Torture Case

A scene in a small town with a cemetery in the foreground and a church and water tower in the background


'Goon Squad'

A sheriff's office unit beat, tortured, sexually assaulted, planted evidence, and falsely charged...

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Multiple Authors

Nearly a month after being sentenced to federal prison for torturing and sexually assaulting two Black men and a third white man, six former Rankin County law enforcement officers known as the Goon Squad received state prison sentences Wednesday.

Rankin County Circuit Court Judge Steve Ratcliffe handed down prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years during a brief hearing.

“For many, many years, the Goon Squad has come into this courtroom and they have testified falsely against persons that they have beaten and caused to be wrongfully incarcerated,” Malik Shabazz, a lawyer representing two of the victims, said outside the courthouse. 

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Hunter Elward was sentenced to 20 years in Rankin County Court on April 10, 2024, in Brandon, Mississippi. Image by Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today. United States.

“But today was dramatically different. Today, the judge in this circuit county court has given out justice to the Rankin County Goon Squad.”

Ratcliffe sentenced former patrol deputy Hunter Elward, who shot one of the men, to 20 years in state prison. Brett McAlpin, the former chief investigator, and Jeffrey Middleton, the lieutenant over the night shift known as the Goon Squad, were both sentenced to 15 years in state prison.

Former narcotics detective Christian Dedmon was sentenced to 20 years. Patrol deputy Daniel Opdyke and Richland narcotics investigator Joshua Hartfield got 15 years and 10 years, respectively.

Jeffrey Middleton was sentenced to 15 years in Rankin County Court on April 10, 2024, in Brandon, Mississippi. Image by Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today. United States.

Last month, the deputies all received federal prison terms ranging from nearly 18 years to 40 years. Hartfield received the shortest federal sentence – 10 years. The state sentences will run concurrently to the men’s federal sentences, meaning it’s unlikely any of the former officers will serve additional prison time.

The former officers will be required to turn in their state law enforcement certificates. They did not read statements during the hearing.

Christian Dedmon was sentenced to 20 years in Rankin County Court, Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Brandon, Miss. Image by Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today. United States.

The five Rankin County officers and the Richland police officer pleaded guilty last summer to state and federal charges for illegally raiding the home of Braxton residents Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins in January 2023.

The officers handcuffed the men before beating them, hurling racial slurs and assaulting them with a sex toy.

Elward then shoved his gun into Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger, shooting him through the neck and nearly killing him. The officers attempted to cover up their actions by planting drugs on the men, concocting a false narrative to justify the shooting and destroying evidence, according to a Justice Department investigation.

Daniel Opdyke was sentenced to 20 years in Rankin County Court on April 10, 2024, in Brandon, Mississippi. Image by Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today.

Dedmon, Elward and Opdyke also pleaded guilty for their roles in a separate torture incident in December 2022. After Rankin County deputies pulled over Alan Schmidt, they beat the man and shocked him with a Taser on the side of the highway. Dedmon fired his duty pistol to scare Schmidt, and threatened to dump his body in a nearby river.

Dedmon then sexually assaulted Schmidt, pressing his genitals against the man’s mouth and bare buttocks while he was handcuffed.

“These criminal acts make a difficult job even harder and far more dangerous,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in a statement. “And it is left to us all to commit ourselves to repairing that damage.”

Joshua Hartfield was sentenced to 10 years on April 10, 2024, in Brandon, Mississippi. Image by Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today. United States.

Charges against Rankin County officers have so far been focused on these two incidents, but dozens of county residents say the sheriff’s department has routinely targeted drug users and minor drug dealers with similar levels of violence.

The New York Times and Mississippi Today published an investigation last fall revealing that deputies in the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department, many of whom called themselves the Goon Squad, routinely barged into homes in the middle of the night, handcuffed people and tortured them for information.

Brett McAlpin was sentenced to 15 years in Rankin County Court on April 10, 2024, in Brandon, Mississippi. Image by Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today.

The deputies repeatedly shocked people with Tasers, assaulted a Hinds County sheriff’s deputy, waterboarded several men, dripped molten metal onto one man’s skin and beat several people until they were bloody and bruised, according to dozens of people who say they witnessed or experienced the raids.

Several of the people who said they experienced violence filed lawsuits or complained to the department. A few said they contacted Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey directly, but were ignored.

Protesters have held rallies at the sheriff’s office and the Governor’s Mansion in recent weeks, renewing demands for Bailey to resign. Bailey, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, has said he has no plans to step down.

Local activists said the sentences were another step toward accountability for a sheriff’s department that has long terrorized its residents.

“This chapter of the book has been written, but the book has not finished,” Angela English, president of the Rankin County chapter of the NAACP, said outside the courthouse. “There is much more to be done.” 

After Wednesday’s hearing, a crowd of activists and local residents walked from the courthouse to the sheriff’s office through pouring rain, demanding to speak with Sheriff Bailey and calling for him to resign. 

Department attorney Jason Dare, facing a barrage of forceful questions from the crowd, said he would try to schedule a meeting between residents and department representatives to discuss how to move forward together. The sheriff did not make an appearance.

The Rankin County district attorney’s office confirmed it was reviewing and dismissing criminal cases involving Goon Squad members, but District Attorney Bubba Bramlett has declined to share which cases have been dismissed or how far back in time his review will go.

The Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate recently passed a bill that would expand oversight over the state’s law enforcement, allowing the state board that certifies officers to investigate and revoke the licenses of officers accused of misconduct, regardless of whether they are criminally charged.

The bill is expected to land on the governor’s desk in the coming weeks after a final review by the House. 


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