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6 ex-Mississippi officers plead guilty to state charges for torturing 2 Black men

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Mississippi, six white former law enforcement officers pleaded guilty Monday to state charges related to the torture of two Black men. The torture took place during a home raid in January. Now, we're going to talk about what happened during that raid in January with reporter Will Stribling. He's with Mississippi Public Broadcasting and he was in the courtroom for the proceedings. But before we continue, I want to warn you that over the next four minutes, Will is going to describe what was done to these men. And the details are violent and disturbing. Hi, Will. Good morning.

WILL STRIBLING, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So tell us what these officers did.

STRIBLING: The officers tortured Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker for over 90 minutes during a warrantless home raid. This included beating them, tasing them and violating them with a sex toy. The abuse only ended after one of the officers shot Jenkins in the mouth during what court documents have called a, quote, "mock execution gone awry." The officers then tried to cover up their crimes by planting drugs and a gun at the scene and destroying evidence like surveillance footage. All that didn't work. And Officers Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke, Christian Dedmon and Joshua Hartfield were eventually arrested, charged in federal and state court and held without bail.

FADEL: I mean, what you're describing is so disturbing. This is five sheriff's deputies and one off-duty police officer from Rankin County, a county in central Mississippi. How did they end up at this home, targeting these two men?

STRIBLING: Well, court documents show that a white neighbor complained to one of the officers that two Black men were staying at the home with a white woman. That woman, Kristi Walley, is a childhood friend of Parker's. She's been paralyzed since she was 15, and he was helping care for her. The officers wanted to terrorize these men. Rankin County is known as an area that has grown in population due to a white flight from predominantly Black Hinds County. And while the officers were torturing the men, they hurled racial slurs at them and told them to go back to quote, "the other side of the Pearl River."

FADEL: OK. So it's 2023, but this is making me think of Emmett Till, tortured, lynched because he was falsely accused of whistling at and accosting a white woman. And that was 1955. The other thing about this case is that these officers had a history of other violence that targeted Black men, right?

STRIBLING: Yes. An Associated Press investigation found that these officers were involved in at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead. They even called themselves the Goon Squad because of their willingness to use excessive force and then cover it up.

FADEL: What was it like in the courtroom?

STRIBLING: Well, the room was packed, which is usually not the case in Mississippi Circuit Court. The defendants were brought in in orange, red and gray jumpsuits, which shows they're being held at different facilities. And the backs of those jumpsuits were covered in duct tape to conceal the names of the jails where they're being held. For many in the courtroom, it was a relief to see these men held to account. That included friends and family of the victims in this case and of those who have been abused by these officers in the past. I spoke with Monica Lee, whose son, Damien Cameron, died after a violent encounter with one of the officers two years ago. She never thought she'd see the man who she blames for her son's death face justice.

MONICA LEE: The same officer that was involved with my son is now going to jail. If they'd have took him off the streets when it happened to my son, this probably wouldn't have happened to Michael Jenkins and Terrell Parker.

FADEL: OK, so what happens now? Where does the case go from here?

STRIBLING: All six officers will be sentenced in November. The federal and state sentences will be served concurrently, so they will likely never see the inside of a state prison. But they will spend decades in federal prison.

FADEL: Will Stribling with Mississippi Public Broadcasting, thank you.

STRIBLING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Will Stribling