Six Mississippi law enforcement officers plead guilty to torture, abuse of two black men

Six Mississippi law enforcement officers plead guilty to torture, abuse of two black men

Published 5:48 pm Thursday, August 3, 2023

Two federal criminal informations were unsealed today charging six former Mississippi law enforcement officers with a total of 16 felonies stemming from the torture and physical abuse of three Rankin County residents in two separate unrelated incidents. Those 16 felonies include 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.

In federal court this morning, six defendants, five former members of the Rankin County, Mississippi, Sheriff’s Office (RSCO) – Chief Investigator Brett McAlpin, 52, Narcotics Investigator Christian Dedmon, 28, Lieutenant Jeffrey Middleton, 46, Deputy Hunter Elward, 31, Deputy Daniel Opdyke, 27 – and one former member of the Richland, Mississippi, Police Department – Narcotics Investigator Joshua Hartfield, 31 – pleaded guilty to all charges against them.

The defendants admitted that on Jan. 24, without a warrant or any exigent circumstances, they kicked in the door and entered a home in Braxton, Rankin County, Mississippi where two Black men, M.J. and E.P., were residing.  The defendants handcuffed and arrested the men without probable cause to believe they had committed any crime, called them racial slurs, and warned them to stay out of Rankin County. Further, the defendants punched and kicked the men, tased them 17 times, forced them to ingest liquids, and assaulted them with a dildo. During the incident, Dedmon fired his gun twice to intimidate the men.

At the conclusion of the incident, Elward surreptitiously removed a bullet from the chamber of his gun, forced the gun into M.J.’s mouth and pulled the trigger. The unloaded gun clicked but did not fire. Elward racked the slide, intending to dry-fire a second time. When Elward pulled the trigger, the gun discharged. The bullet lacerated M.J.’s tongue, broke his jaw and exited out of his neck.

As M.J. was bleeding on the floor, the defendants did not provide medical aid, but instead gathered outside the home to devise a false cover story and took steps to corroborate it, including: planting a gun on M.J.; destroying surveillance video, spent shell casings, and taser cartridges; submitting fraudulent drug evidence to the crime lab; filing false reports; charging M.J. with crimes he did not commit; making false statements to investigators; and pressuring witnesses to stick to the cover story. Three of the defendants admitted in court that they were members of “The Goon Squad,” a group of RCSO officers who were known for using excessive force and not reporting it.

Additionally, during their court appearances this morning, Dedmon, Elward, and Opdyke each also pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging them with three additional federal felony offenses, including deprivation of rights under color of law and discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The charges arise out of an incident on Dec. 4, 2022, in which Dedmon beat and tased a white man and fired a gun near his head to coerce a confession, while Elward and Opdyke failed to intervene.

“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 Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will hold accountable officers who abuse the public trust that is essential to public safety.”

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute law enforcement officers who violate the public trust by abusing the power given to them by virtue of their position.”

“These former law enforcement officers have committed heinous and wanton acts of violence disgracing the badge which so many others have worn with pride and honor,” said U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “They violated their oaths and have become the criminals they were sworn to protect us from.”

“Our citizens deserve credible law enforcement to safeguard the community from crime. The actions of these deputies and the officer significantly deprived the citizens of that protection and eroded the trust earned each day by honest law enforcement officers throughout the nation,” said Special Agent in Charge Jermicha Fomby of the FBI Jackson Field Office. “The FBI is committed to aggressively investigating those who misuse their authority, violate the color of law, or inject biases in the execution of their duties.”

“Without a relationship of trust between law enforcement officers and those they swear to serve and protect,” said Mississippi State Attorney General Lynn Fitch. “Our fight for justice and against crime is doomed to fail.  This brutal attack caused more than physical harm to these two individual victims, it severed that vital trust with the people.  This abuse of power will not be tolerated. The Attorney General’s Office is committed to delivering justice for these victims and all Mississippians, and we are grateful for this strong partnership we have with our U.S. Attorney’s Offices and FBI Field Office.  Working together, it is my hope that we can help these victims heal and restore confidence in our criminal justice system.”

The defendants face state charges arising out of the same incident, including home invasion, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and obstruction of justice.

The FBI Jackson Field Office investigated the federal case. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation investigated the state case.

Criminal Chief Erin O. Chalk and Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenda R. Haynes for the Southern District of Mississippi and Special Litigation Counsel Christopher J. Perras and Trial Attorney Daniel Grunert of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section; and Mississippi Deputy Attorney General Mary Helen Wall, who was deputized as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the federal matter are prosecuting the case.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of abuse by a deputy with the Rankin County Sherriff’s Office, call the FBI hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI, email tips.fbi.gov or call the FBI Jackson Field Office at 601-948-5000.

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