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2 ex-officers in Mississippi get yearslong sentences for torturing 2 Black men

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Six former Mississippi police officers who pleaded guilty to torturing two Black men are being sentenced this week in federal court.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This story, which lasts about four minutes, includes details of violence.

The officers raided a home early last year. Officers shot one of the men inside, then planted drugs and a gun at the scene to cover it up.

MARTIN: With us now is Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Michael McEwen. Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL MCEWEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So you were in the courtroom yesterday in Jackson for the sentencing hearing. Tell us what happened.

MCEWEN: Yeah. So two of the six former ranking county police officers began their sentencing yesterday. They were part of a group self-styled as the Goon Squad. And in January of 2023, they broke into a home where two Black men lived, brutalized them for more than two hours, tortured them, sexually assaulted them, and then tried to cover it up.

Hunter Elward, who was a deputy at the time of the raid, was sentenced to 20 years yesterday. He faced the most time under sentencing guidelines, mostly because he shot Michael Corey Jenkins in the mouth in a mock execution that went awry. He was visibly shaking and crying in court and apologized directly to both of his victims.

Lieutenant Jeffrey Middleton's hearing went much differently. His attorney really pushed the judge to sentence him differently from Elward. He argued his client played less of a role in the raid itself and that he didn't shoot a gun. But Judge Tom Lee gave Middleton 17 1/2 years, which was the highest allowed under his guidelines, because he said as a lieutenant, Middleton could have stopped the raid but instead participated.

MARTIN: I understand that new details in the case came out during this hearing.

MCEWEN: Yeah. Most interestingly, the power structure of the so-called Goon Squad really came to light. Federal prosecutors said it was Lieutenant Middleton who actually devised the plan to cover up the raid and the accidental shooting. He told his fellow officers that if they told anyone what happened, he'd have them killed. And he also planted a gun and meth on the scene to justify it.

There was also testimony that pointed to current Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, and it alleged that he knew about the Goon Squad and tolerated it for years. It's also worth noting here that Eddie Parker and Michael Corey Jenkins are Black men, and not only were they brutalized, tortured, and sexually assaulted, but were also called several racial slurs and were told by the all-white officers to go, quote, "back to their side of the river" in Jackson. And Rankin County, most notably, is a white suburban enclave just east of Jackson.

MARTIN: I understand that the two victims were in court for all this. How did they react to all this?

MCEWEN: So Eddie Parker says he still really struggles as a result of that night. He was sexually assaulted, and he had his life threatened if he reported the attack to any authorities. And he says that he's still afraid to fall asleep or even go into public. But he did stand up in the courtroom and say that he forgave Hunter Elward. Here he is speaking again after the hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDDIE PARKER: For what is done, I forgive that part. But other than that, he still did - you know what I'm saying? - what he did, and he has to be punished for it.

MCEWEN: Michael Corey Jenkins, who was shot in the mouth and nearly killed, told me that he felt justice was beginning to be served but that he didn't forgive Elward because he wasn't sorry, but is only sorry that he got caught.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, what's next?

MCEWEN: So the other four officers, including the sheriff department's lead investigator, will be sentenced two per day through tomorrow. And just from what I heard in court yesterday, I expect more details about how the Goon Squad operated to come out.

MARTIN: That is Michael McEwen with Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Michael, thank you.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Michael McEwen