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Story Publication logo December 23, 2023

Stories of Alleged Brutality by a Mississippi Sheriff’s Department

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

In Brandon, Miss., the seat of Rankin County, citizens have accused sheriff’s deputies of abuse and torture. Image by Rory Doyle/The New York Times. United States.

Mississippians say they’ve been shocked with Tasers, beaten with batons, pistol-whipped and waterboarded by Rankin County deputies, for decades.

Brian Howey and Nate Rosenfield investigated dozens of arrests made by Rankin County deputies to report this article, which is part of a series by The Times’s Local Investigations Fellowship examining the power of sheriffs’ offices in Mississippi.

Last month, The New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today investigated a series of allegations that, for nearly two decades, Rankin County sheriff’s deputies tortured people suspected of drug use to extract information and confessions.

Reporters examined hundreds of pages of court records and sheriff’s office reports and interviewed more than 50 people who say they witnessed or experienced these events. What emerged was a pattern of violence that was neither confined to a small group of deputies nor hidden from department leaders.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey declined to comment on specific allegations against his deputies, but in a brief phone interview in November, he told reporters “I have 240 employees, there’s no way I can be with them each and every day.” The department also announced that it had updated its internal policies and that deputies would receive training on federal civil rights laws.

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These are portraits of some of the cases the investigation uncovered:

October 2009, Pearl, Miss.

Rankin County deputies arranged for a confidential informant to give marked money to Christopher Hillhouse to purchase drugs, according to department records. Mr. Hillhouse told reporters that he knew the informant was trying to set him up, so he spent the money at Dollar General and a gas station — stores deputies watched Mr. Hillhouse enter while tailing him, according to an incident report by Brett McAlpin, an investigator with the sheriff’s department. Later, deputies confronted Mr. Hillhouse at his family’s home. He and his mother said the deputies entered their house without permission or showing a warrant. Department officials told reporters they could not find a copy of a search warrant. Deputies demanded to know where the money was, the family said, before placing Mr. Hillhouse in handcuffs, punching him in the stomach and knocking his tooth out with a flashlight. Mr. Hillhouse said he was put in a van where a deputy continued to beat him for nearly half an hour. He was never prosecuted for a crime.

November 2010, Florence, Miss.

Dustin Hale was at a friend’s house when he got into a fight that spilled out into the yard. Rankin County deputies arrived and handcuffed the teenager and then began searching for a gun deputies believed he had stashed. When Mr. Hale failed to present a weapon, the deputies shocked him with their Tasers and beat him, according to Mr. Hale and his girlfriend at the time. Mr. Hale was taken to an interrogation room at the jail where deputies placed a cardboard crown from Burger King on his head to humiliate him and shocked him until he urinated on himself, according to Mr. Hale’s former girlfriend, who said she witnessed the incident while waiting to be booked. Mr. Hale was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to comply and possession of alcohol. He was fined $507.

Gary Frith. Image courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff's Department.

September 2012, unknown location

Gary Frith drove off when Rankin County deputies tried to pull him over, according to department records. Eventually he stopped his vehicle and, according to a lawsuit he filed, exited with his hands over his head showing no resistance. Deputies describe no violence from Mr. Frith in their reports. Mr. Frith said deputies beat and stomped on him until he was bloodied. He was then taken to a squad car where one deputy choked and repeatedly hit him and another told him to leave the county or they would murder him, according to Mr. Frith’s lawsuit. A sheriff’s office incident report provides no explanation for the large bandage over Mr. Frith’s eyebrow in his jail mug shot. Mr. Frith pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Ronald Shinstock. Image courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff's Office.

March 2015, Brandon, Miss.

Deputies raided Ronald Shinstock’s home after a confidential informant set him up, according to court records. Deputies held Mr. Shinstock’s wife, their children and their friends at gunpoint while searching the house without presenting a search warrant, Mr. Shinstock and witnesses said. Department officials told reporters they could not find a copy of a warrant. Deputies took Mr. Shinstock and John Burrell, his friend, outside, where, Mr. Burrell said, a deputy hit him until his ears bled while demanding he tell them where the drugs were. Mr. Shinstock said deputies slapped him, made him strip naked and threatened to hit his groin with a flashlight.

Mr. Burrell pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and contributing to the delinquency of a minor and was fined $7,541. Mr. Shinstock was convicted of selling methamphetamine. He appealed his case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, arguing deputies violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they raided his home without a warrant. The court denied his appeal because he failed to introduce the issue in his original criminal trial. He is currently imprisoned, facing a 40-year sentence because the sale occurred less than 1,500 feet from a church.

Samuel Carter. Image by Rory Doyle/The New York Times.

Christopher Holloway. Image by Rory Doyle/The New York Times.

June 2016, Pelahatchie, Miss.

In reports, deputies said they were responding to a drug overdose at the home of Samuel Carter, an Army veteran, when they found drugs in plain sight. The reports mentioned no use of force during the arrest. Mr. Carter and other witnesses said that no one had overdosed in the home and deputies forced their way inside without permission or presenting a search warrant. Department officials told reporters they could not find a copy of a warrant.

Christopher Holloway, a Black man who was visiting the home, said deputies taunted him with racial slurs and began scouring the house for drugs. Mr. Holloway said he was handcuffed, beaten and repeatedly shocked in the groin and chest with a Taser until he defecated from fear and exhaustion. Taser logs indicate that James Rayborn, a deputy who was present at the arrest, according to department records, triggered his Taser six times for 20 seconds during the arrest. Mr. Rayborn did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Mr. Holloway said deputies demanded to know where the drugs were and threatened to throw him into the pool while handcuffed.

Mr. Carter said he was shocked with a Taser and beaten in a separate room. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance, but avoided prison time by agreeing to attend rehabilitation. Mr. Holloway was not prosecuted but served about eight months for violating parole.

June 2018, Pearl, Miss.

Rankin County deputies arranged for a confidential informant to buy drugs in the home of Jerry Manning, according to department records. Deputies then burst into his trailer without presenting a search warrant, witnesses said.

When one of Mr. Manning’s guests, Garry Curro, 64, stepped into the living room, deputies threw him to the ground and handcuffed him, Mr. Curro said, before beating him and repeatedly shocking him with a Taser. Taser logs indicate that Deputies James Rayborn, Luke Stickman and Cody Grogan, who were present at the arrest, according to department records, fired their Tasers a total of 14 times for 27 seconds. None of the deputies responded to multiple requests for comment. Mr. Curro said that when he told the deputies he had received back surgery, one of them stuck a foot into the middle of his back, grabbed him by the neck and yanked his head backward. In his incident report, Investigator McAlpin does not mention the deputies’ use of force during the arrests.

Mr. Manning said deputies placed his legs under his bed and knocked out the bedposts, pinning him to the floor while they shocked him repeatedly in the genitals and the head. Deputies then wrapped a pair of bluejeans around his face and punched him repeatedly before dragging him into the kitchen, Mr. Manning said, where they then used a blowtorch to melt the handle of a metal nutcracker onto his bare thigh. One deputy drew a swastika on his forehead, Mr. Manning said, which was visible in his mug shot. Deputies leaned Mr. Manning against a chair and strapped a belt around his neck, he said. Then, one deputy stood on the chair and pulled the belt up, allowing him to hang by his own body weight until he thought he would die, Mr. Manning said.

Adam Cody Porter said deputies handcuffed him in another room and asked him where the drugs were. When he said he did not know, they threw him into a glass mirror, kicked him on his sides and used his pocketknife to shred his pants to ribbons, Mr. Porter said.

James Elbert Lynch said he was asleep when deputies grabbed him by his hair, dragged him into the living room and stomped on his face when he asked to see a warrant. Mr. Lynch said that when he told a deputy he did not know where any drugs were, the deputy dragged a blowtorch across the bottoms of his feet.

Mr. Curro pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia and was fined $250. Mr. Manning said he entered a drug counseling program to avoid charges. Mr. Porter was not charged. Charges against Mr. Lynch were dropped.

Robert Wayne Jones. Image courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff's Department.

June 2018, Pearl, Miss.

While trying to set up Robert Wayne Jones and Jeffrey Tyler Mote in a drug sale, deputies intercepted the men in a trailer park driveway, according to department records. The deputies then beat them and shocked them with Tasers, Mr. Jones said, demanding to know where their drugs were. He said deputies then drove them to a wooded area and beat them again before throwing Mr. Jones into a water-filled ditch and firing a Taser at his chest, above his heart. Mr. Jones said a deputy believed he had swallowed drugs to hide them, so he shoved a stick down Mr. Jones’s throat and twisted it until he vomited blood. In their official report, deputies did not mention using force against the men. A mug shot later taken at the jail shows Mr. Jones’s face swollen and covered in mud.

While in jail, Mr. Jones told his story to a fellow inmate who described the account to reporters. Mr. Mote was convicted of possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle and possession of paraphernalia and was fined $855. Mr. Jones was not charged.

Fredrick Trimble. Image courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff's Department.

July 2018, Flowood, Miss.

Deputies arrested Fredrick Trimble during a sting initiated by a confidential informant, according to department records. Mr. Trimble, who said he thought the informant was trying to rob him, fled in his car and struck a pedestrian. The deputies caught Mr. Trimble, beat him and shocked him with their Tasers multiple times in the groin and torso while he was handcuffed, Mr. Trimble said. He said one of the deputies put a gun in his mouth, threatened to kill him and then pistol-whipped him. In their reports, deputies wrote that Mr. Trimble had attacked them. He was charged with assault and fleeing police officers and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jeremy Travis Paige. Image by Rory Doyle/The New York Times.

August 2018, Pearl, Miss.

Rankin County deputies arrested Jeremy Travis Paige after getting a confidential informant to try to set him up in a drug sale, according to department records. Mr. Paige said that after he tried to flee in his car, deputies beat him unconscious in the street. In their reports, deputies wrote that he resisted arrest and tried to kick them.

When Mr. Paige came to, he had been handcuffed and deputies were dragging him into his home, Mr. Paige said. He was then brutally beaten for nearly an hour, until his eyes were swollen shut and his tooth fell out, he and a witness said. Mr. Paige also said deputies waterboarded him, burned him with a cigarette and shocked him with a Taser. Department Taser logs indicate that at least one deputy at the scene fired a Taser. Mr. Paige’s booking photo, taken at the Rankin County jail, shows his battered face after the encounter.

According to Mr. Paige, deputies hid evidence of the violence by using Tasers that were not issued by the department and removing blood-soaked bed linens from the house. After Mr. Paige was arrested, his roommate came home and took pictures of the mattress stripped bare and blood spattered on the wall. Mr. Paige, who was sentenced to five years on drug charges, filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed after he missed court deadlines.

Mitchell Hobson. Image by Rory Doyle/The New York Times.

Rick Loveday. Image by Rory Doyle/The New York Times.

October 2018, Brandon, Miss.

Rick Loveday said he woke up when deputies barged into his trailer home seeking drugs. Mr. Loveday, who was a deputy in Hinds County at the time, said deputies dragged him half-naked into his kitchen, where they poured spices on him, smashed a chocolate cake into his face and jabbed his buttocks threateningly with a flashlight before beating him.

Mitchell Hobson, a guest in Mr. Loveday’s home, said deputies tortured him for more than an hour, waterboarding him, beating his bare feet with batons, shocking him with Tasers, choking him with a lamp cable, sticking a Taser into his mouth and punching him in the face and body while demanding he lead them to a drug stash.

Andrea Dettore, another guest in Mr. Loveday’s home, said she witnessed Mr. Loveday’s beating and heard Mr. Hobson being beaten in the other room. Mr. Loveday said he also heard Mr. Hobson being beaten. The confidential informant who set the men up told reporters that Mr. Loveday spoke to him in court a few days later about being beaten by the deputies.

Mr. Loveday said deputies stole guns and other items from his home. He was charged with possession of paraphernalia. Mr. Hobson was charged with selling methamphetamine. All charges were set aside or dropped.

February 2019, Flowood, Miss.

Rankin County deputies pulled over Carvis Johnson after a confidential informant bought drugs from him, according to department records. Mr. Johnson claimed in a federal lawsuit that after he was handcuffed, Deputy Jamie Perry placed a gun in his mouth and threatened to kill him if he did not say where his drugs were located. Mr. Johnson said deputies beat him when he told them he had no drugs and said if he brought drugs into Rankin County, he would be killed.

Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit states that deputies threw him into a truck bed and took turns beating his back and buttocks with a crowbar. (In an interview, Mr. Johnson clarified that they used a car jack handle). Investigator McAlpin wrote in his incident report that Mr. Johnson tried to “obtain or conceal” a gun, but he made no mention of violence during the arrest. Mr. Johnson’s booking photo shows his face swollen and bandaged.

Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine with a firearm and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. His lawsuit was resolved in a settlement for $2,000.

March 2019, Florence, Miss.

Deputies stopped Maurice Porter in his car because they suspected him of selling drugs and driving without a license, according to Investigator McAlpin’s incident report. Mr. Porter said that he ran when a deputy referred to him using a racial slur and threatened to shock him in his groin with a Taser. After tackling him, the deputies shocked him, punched him and kicked him, Mr. Porter said. A confidential informant who said he witnessed the arrest told reporters that Mr. Porter was brutally beaten.

The deputies took Mr. Porter back to their vehicles but refused to let him stand, Mr. Porter said, hurling racial slurs at him as they dragged him by his hair and his shoulders. When they got him to the car, Mr. Porter said, Investigator McAlpin slammed a nightstick into his legs repeatedly, knocking him to the ground. The deputies shoved him into a squad car, where he vomited, Mr. Porter said.

When Mr. Porter’s mother, Catherine, arrived, deputies would not let her speak to her son and told her they were going to search her house, Mr. Porter and his mother said. Ms. Porter said she did not grant deputies permission to search her home; department officials told reporters they could not find a copy of a search warrant. During the search, deputies took two guns and then took a security camera and the memory device that stored video footage, Ms. Porter said.

Mr. Porter was charged with resisting arrest and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. He was fined more than $1,000 and spent five months in jail.

Joshua Rushing. Image courtesy of Rankin County Sheriff's Department.

January 2020, Pearl, Miss.

Rankin County deputies arranged a controlled drug sale between a confidential informant and Joshua Rushing, according to department records. In his report, Investigator Christian Dedmon wrote that Mr. Rushing rammed a patrol vehicle with his car and then ran from deputies and fought with them as they subdued him. Mr. Dedmon wrote that he shocked Mr. Rushing with his Taser and punched him until other deputies helped place him in handcuffs.

Mr. Rushing and his girlfriend, Nicole Brock, who witnessed the arrest, denied these claims. Mr. Rushing said he was pulling over when the deputies rammed his vehicle and they began to shock him with their Tasers while he was still in the driver’s seat. He said he was in handcuffs when Mr. Dedmon placed a pistol in his mouth and radioed that an armed man was fleeing. Mr. Dedmon then pistol-whipped him in the head, Mr. Rushing said. His mug shot shows a large bleeding wound on his forehead, where Mr. Rushing said he was struck. Mr. Dedmon, who pleaded guilty this summer to federal and state charges related to the torture of three men, did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment left with his attorney.

Before taking him to jail, deputies placed him in the bed of their truck and drove to a nearby service road, Mr. Rushing said, where they told him he had made a mistake coming to their county and shocked him repeatedly with a Taser. Taser logs from the sheriff’s department show that Mr. Dedmon triggered his Taser six times for a total of 19 seconds during the arrest. After being taken to jail, Mr. Rushing described the encounter to another inmate, who confirmed his account.

Mr. Rushing said he complained to the department, detailing the abuse; a lawyer for the department declined to provide copies, claiming they were personnel records. Mr. Rushing spent eight months in jail, but charges stemming from the incident were eventually dropped. Ms. Brock was charged with disorderly conduct and failure to comply and was fined $697.

February 2020, Pearl, Miss.

Dwayne Kaiser was set up by a confidential informant in a $100 methamphetamine deal, according to department records. Rankin County deputies then raided Mr. Kaiser’s home without presenting a search warrant, Mr. Kaiser said. Department officials told reporters they could not find a copy of a search warrant. Deputies brought Mr. Kaiser into his bedroom, he said, where they demanded to know where the $100 was and punched him repeatedly. Mr. Kaiser said that one deputy shocked him in the leg with his Taser, which is supported by department Taser logs. No use of force is mentioned in the deputies’ reports. Deputies then punched him until he told them where to find the money, Mr. Kaiser said.

Mr. Kaiser pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and said he was released after three years.

June 2022, Florence, Miss.

When Rankin County deputies came to investigate a fight between Barry Tatum Yawn and his son, they shocked him with their Tasers numerous times, Mr. Yawn said. Then, they held him upside down by his legs, slammed his head into the floor and punched him until his jaw broke, he said. Department Taser logs indicate that several deputies fired their Tasers seven times during the time of the incident.

At the urging of a fire department medic, deputies took him to a hospital, Mr. Yawn said. Medical records show that doctors treated him for head injuries and a broken jaw, which the records say occurred during the fight between Mr. Yawn and his son. The medical records also state that doctors had to remove Taser prongs from Mr. Yawn’s shoulder. There is no mention of Taser use or any use of force in the deputies’ reports. Mr. Yawn was not arrested or charged in the incident.

January 2023, Florence, Miss.

Investigator Dedmon set up a drug deal between Robert Grozier and a confidential informant at the home of Andrea Dettore, department records show. According to Mr. Grozier, deputies stormed the property and forced a gun so far down his throat that he started to vomit and then shocked him with their Tasers until he falsely confessed to buying drugs. Ms. Dettore said she could hear Mr. Grozier grunting as if he were being hurt behind the closed bedroom door. Mr. Grozier and Ms. Dettore said that a deputy found a sex toy in the home and shoved it into Mr. Grozier’s mouth while threatening to shock him if he spat it out. Deputies found topless pictures of Ms. Dettore on Mr. Grozier’s phone and showed them to each other, making lewd comments, Mr. Grozier and Ms. Dettore said.

Mr. Grozier pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana and was fined $250. Ms. Dettore pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and failure to comply and was fined $500.

Jerry Mitchell, Ilyssa Daly, Eric Sagara and Irene Casado Sanchez contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research. This article was reported in partnership with Big Local News at Stanford University.

A correction was made on Dec. 23, 2023: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Dwayne Kaiser’s sentence related to drug charges. He received a 10-year sentence and was released after three years.


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