Earlier this month, six Mississippi law enforcement officers pleaded guilty to 16 federal charges stemming from torture and physical abuse. Those 16 felonies included civil rights conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.
The six criminal perpetrators were Chief Investigator Brett McAlpin, 52, Narcotics Investigator Christian Dedmon, 28, Lieutenant Jeffrey Middleton, 46, Deputy Hunter Elward, 31, Deputy Daniel Opdyke, 27, and Narcotics Investigator Joshua Hartfield, 31. “The physical and emotional impact of their crimes resulted from a calculated, deliberate, and egregious course of conduct that required a significant response from authorities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Once more, the notorious Goon Squad found themselves standing trial, this time grappling with state charges. According to an Official Statement by the Mississippi Office of Attorney General, the six were charged with Aggravated Assault, Home Invasion, Obstruction of Justice/Hindering Prosecution in the First Degree, and Conspiracy to Commit Obstruction of Justice/Hinder Prosecution. Attorney General Lynn Fitch acknowledged the severe breach of trust that Rankin County residents and Mississippians everywhere are experiencing:
“My office is committed to being part of rebuilding the trust and the bond that is so strained by incidents like this. Working together, as we did with our state and federal partners here, it is my hope that we can help these victims begin to heal today and we can help restore confidence in our criminal justice system moving forward.”
During the court proceedings, all six defendants pleaded guilty, admitting that their actions were fueled by racial animosity towards their victims. These convictions have pushed for an intense review of law enforcement practices in Rankin County and led to public outcry for greater accountability and transparency within the sheriff’s office. Although hailed as a historic milestone by some civil rights figures, numerous individuals argue that it falls short of expectations. In an interview with WJTV 12 news, Plaintiffs’ Attorney Malik Z. Shabazz recognized that the struggle for justice continues:
“We know that they have not only committed these wicked acts against Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker in January but that the goon squad, which is really bigger than just six officers under the leadership of Sheriff Bryan Bailey. They have been terrorizing the people in Ranking County for many years. So we must press for the maximum sentence for this hate crime. And we must continue to press for the removal of Bryan Bailey as Sheriff.”
With the culprits holding high-ranking positions in Rankin law enforcement, it is hard for some to believe that their boss, Sheriff Bryan Bailey, remained completely oblivious to their dark deeds having rewarded them with several promotions and accolades. Bailey claimed he was unaware there were any cultural problems under his watch before the recent hate crimes came to light. “Obviously one thing I need to do is make people more accountable,” he said.
He also categorically denied any guilt. “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. Sheriff Bailey arrived at the scene of the crime only an hour and a half after his former deputies. Not everyone is convinced he is faultless, “they knew exactly how to communicate to do something like this,” said Seth W. Stoughton, law enforcement expert and professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. “That’s not spontaneous, it’s the result of the tacit or explicit approval of the supervisors and agency.”
Unfortunately, Rankin county has a documented history of hate crime. A convicted perpetrator, Deryl Paul Dedmon, also possesses a shared surname with a member of the Goon Squad, potentially suggesting a familial relationship.
“If you look hard, you’ll see other instances of [the officers] violating police department rules, the procedures, [and] the fact that they named their group shows some degree of organization,” Vida Johnson, a criminal defense attorney and associate law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, told Yahoo News. “I think the real problem is, just how many other groups are there like this?”
As the supreme law enforcement leader in the county, being sheriff comes with the responsibility of not only being accountable for his own actions and knowing the county’s history of anti-Black crime, but also keeping a watchful eye on the conduct of his subordinates.
Demonstrators attended a Rankin County Board of Supervisors meeting last week to urge Sheriff Bailey’s resignation. A Florence resident commented, “This sheriff knew when he did the Goon Squad what the definition was of goon. He shouldn’t have never uh accepted them to get the squad together…it’s been happening… It’s just history repeating itself. That man’s a liar, he’s a liar. And he don’t need to be over Mississippi. Ya’ll need someone that’s fair and equal to all races.”
“The defendants in this case tortured and inflicted unspeakable harm on their victims, egregiously violated the civil rights of citizens who they were supposed to protect, and shamefully betrayed the oath they swore as law enforcement officers,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will hold accountable officers who abuse the public trust that is essential to public safety.”
Bryan Bailey is currently running for reelection unopposed and no charges have been brought against him at this time.