State sentencing in goon squad guilty pleas shows ‘mercy,’ says victims’ attorney

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Attorney Trent Walker discusses the results of court hearing on Rankin County law enforcement torture case. National civil rights activist John Barnett stands behind Walker. Mississippi Advocates for Justice chairman Kareem Muhammad is at rear left. (Photo: Earnest McBride)

As several dozens of the relatives and past victims of alleged Rankin County “goon squad”-like offenses over the years stood near him, Attorney Trent Walker, co-counsel representing the two victims of the brutal torture and abuse at the center of Monday’s court hearing, said he was “ecstatic” that a milestone in Mississippi justice had come for his clients Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, but that he felt the state had shown “mercy” for the confessed perpetrators. 

Walker addressed a clutch of waiting reporters within minutes of the closing of Monday’s Rankin County court session that ended with guilty pleas from the five fired Rankin County deputies and one Richland police officer who operated under the guise of a self-described “goon squad.” The six defendants had already pled guilty to fourteen charges in federal court and will be held in custody until the sentencing expected for November.

“In terms of our satisfaction,” Walker said following a short statement by Parker, “we certainly recognized that more charges could have been brought. But as Mr. Parker stated a moment ago, we are ecstatic because to my knowledge never in the history of the state of Mississippi has any… white officers been held to account for brutality against Black victims. To my knowledge, this is the first time this has occurred.

“We’re certainly happy about that. And we do realize that mercy has been shown to these defendants, because in regard to the things they could have been charged with, versus the things they have been charged with, certainly mercy has been shown.”

Walker revealed that both Jenkins and Parker had left the courthouse shortly after the session ended and were being kept in secure locations in another state due to threats on their lives.

Lead counsel Malik Shabazz concurred with Walker on the historic precedent of the six wayward officers admitting guilt in a state court.

 “Today’s second set of guilty pleas represent the first time in Mississippi history that a white law enforcement officer has ever been held criminally accountable for police misconduct against a Black person,” Shabazz said.  

“However, the struggle continues towards sentencing – the sentences to be handed out for hate-filled and torturous acts by the defendants, under the leadership of Sheriff Bryan Bailey, must be very strong.”


The six perpetrators included former shift supervisor Lt. Jeffrey Middleton, who called together the “goon squad” on Jan. 24; deputy Hunter Elward, who shot Jenkins in the mouth; Brett McAlpin, chief investigator for the sheriff’s office who received the phone call that set the sextet in action; narcotics investigator Christian Dedmon; Deputy Daniel Opdyke; and Josh Hartfield of the Richland Police Department, who reportedly was off duty from the Richland department at the time of the raid.

“Their conspiracy unraveled after one officer told the sheriff he had lied, leading to confessions from the others,” the Associated Press reported. “The charges against the victims weren’t dropped until June after federal and state investigators got involved.”

During Monday’s hearing, Circuit Judge Steven Ratcliff recommended the officers take the state recommended sentencing, that will amount to at least five years for five of the officers, but will be extended to 30 years for Elward, the deputy who fired his gun into the mouth of Jenkins, lacerating his tongue and exiting through his neck and jaw. 

Walker pointed out, however, that no sentences were made Monday. The judge delayed sentencing until later, without specifying a date. 

“Under the Mississippi system,” Walker added, “there’s no guarantee that the sentences recommended will be the sentences he will accept. He has the ability to disregard those and impose his own sentences after he goes through a pre-sentencing investigation with each of the defendants in the case.”

It had all started on the night of January 24, after Sheriff’s lead investigator Brett McAlpin got a call from a Braxton community resident that two Black men were living in their neighborhood with a white woman. Rankin County has been reputed in recent years as a special enclave for “white flight” and an unwelcoming frontier for Black people moving in or even visiting from nearby Jackson.

The white woman was identified as Kristi Walley, Parker’s friend since childhood. She was at the hospital at the time of the invasion. Walley has been paralyzed all of her adult life, and Parker was helping care for her. She couldn’t live alone and was very dependent on Parker, she said. Jenkins was a friend of Parker’s and was visiting the house.

Careful not to be caught on the house security video, the six agreed to avoid leaving too many facial bruises on the pair of victims and would concentrate instead on delivering body blows, along with an unceasing number of taser shots and other humiliations, such as throwing eggs, milk, and other liquids poured over the two victims. Further humiliation came with what has been described as a “sex” toy, an object forced into the two victims’ mouths and was intended to commit further abuse on Jenkins, who had defecated on himself due to the 90 minute torture ordeal.

The false charges brought against Parker and Jenkins included possession of narcotics, firing a weapon at an officer, resisting arrest, and assault on the officers. All these charges were dropped once the federal investigations were being drawn to a close in June, said Walker.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey issued a statement Monday claiming he had taken quick and appropriate action in the case and would use every means possible to prevent such atrocities from occurring again in his term as sheriff.

“The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office continues to evaluate and modify its policies, procedures, and training for all sheriff’s office employees,” Bailey said. “We have asked for assistance from outside agencies and contracted with outside firms to evaluate us, make recommendations, and conduct training. These actions are taken to prevent anything like January’s tragedy from ever happening again.”

Bailey is running unopposed for reelection in November.


Kareem Muhammad, one of the civil rights activists involved in the current case and leader of the group Mississippi Advocates for Justice pointed out a direct connection between today’s Rankin County Sheriff’s Office and the notorious Lloyd “Goon” Jones, the former sheriff of Simpson County who had also led the state troops who terrorized Black students during the Ole Miss riots of the 1970’s and was commander of the state highway patrol unit that fired on the students at Jackson State in May 1970, killing both Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green. 

Goon Jones became the sheriff of Simpson County in the early 1990’s and had a special relationship with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office. He was in office when Andre Jones, one of the four Black deaths recently investigated by the Associated Press, was transferred from Rankin County to the Simpson County Jail and wound up dead in his cell, reported as a suicide through hanging himself with his shoestring. Parents of the victim are still seeking justice for their son.

Lloyd Goon Jones was killed in a revenge shooting in 1995, but his estate remained part of a lawsuit filed by the Quinn-Muhammad family on behalf of Andre Jones.

Simpson County continued its longstanding relationship with the Rankin County detention center. At least three of the four mysterious deaths of Rankin County inmates investigated recently by the Associated Press involved a transfer from Rankin to either Simpson County jail or to the Simpson County hospital. Goon Jones regularly received inmates from Rankin, Muhammad says. Brian Bailey worked as deputy under Jones early in his career, he alleged.

National civil rights activist John Barnett, one of the people who helped to get the Rankin County case into both the national and international spotlight, said he remains skeptical about the current developments.

“It seems like some stuff is going on behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to,” Barnett said Monday. “I think that the punishment – everything – should be increased. I don’t know why hate crime is not being highlighted. The guilty pleas.… You know, you get a break when you say you’re guilty. I think this ought to be at the highest sentencing level possible. That’s why when we come back for the sentencing we’ll continue to rally, because there’re more goons and buffoons inside the sheriff’s department.”

Shabazz said that Black Lawyers for Justice, Mississippi Advocates for Justice, and the Jenkins and Parker families will all be present at the November sentencing in U.S. District Court and will be pressing for the maximum sentences to be levied against the Rankin County Goon Squad as a deterrent to rogue police brutality nationwide.


Many other people gathered inside and outside of the court hearing Monday were members of a variety of organizations that have pushed for justice in this case from the very beginning. As early as January 2023, some were already fighting for exposure in similar cases.  

Cardell Wright, chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party based in Lexington, said, “We are relieved as a body of activists and community organizers for justice to be served. Now, we still have concerns over the low level of charges or sentencing for some of these individuals, but overall, we are well-pleased.”

Wright had several meetings with Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clark, the DOJ head of its Civil Rights office, when she came to Holmes County during her investigation of several cases, including the Rankin “goon squad.” “We applaud her because we honestly believe that the Mississippi’s attorney general Lynn Fitch and the state would not have filed charges if the DOJ had not stepped in first and filed federal charges.”

Kareem Muhammad says state leaders like Tate Reeves should be held accountable for the many human rights problems that keep recurring in Mississippi.

“We know that it wasn’t until the federal DOJ came in and demanded to have an investigation that Lynn Fitch was forced to take action. Secondly, grass root organizers had begun to make her life uncomfortable. And then lastly, of course, the state’s Black representatives came together and demanded the arrest of those officers. The combination of all of these forced the Mississippi AG to make a move. But what we’re seeing here in Mississippi is that they’re still brushing it under the rug. 

“When there’s a corporation and something happens in the corporation, they don’t fire the employees, they fire the CEO. And we know that Tate Reeves is the CEO of the state of Mississippi. He and Sheriff Bailey allowed these officers to go on for five months without being fired or even disciplined in any way, and they didn’t say anything. Now we know they are turning a blind eye, as they’ve always done.” 

Marquell Bridges, founder-director of the Building Bridges for Community Unity and Progress organization based in Gulfport, is another community organizer who was committed to bringing the case to public awareness and to get some measure of justice along the way.

“We knew about the goon squad long before now,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been fighting so hard. This represents the overall culture of policing in today’s society. 

“We know that this kind of justice doesn’t come too often,” he said. “This is an historic day. We want to celebrate every win, but at the same time they’re not showing the video, although we know there’s a video of the incident. They don’t want that released to the public. The state of Mississippi really didn’t have any intentions of holding these people accountable if it wasn’t for the federal government. If you look at the state charges, it looks like a lot but most of them are suspended, with 65 percent of the sentencing time dropped. They’ll do one or two years and get out on state time. But we’re hoping that the federal government does better.” 

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State sentencing in goon squad guilty pleas shows ‘mercy,’ says victims’ attorney

By Earnest McBride
August 21, 2023