Ex-deputy jailed for torturing two Black men jailed for 20 years as one victim tells him ‘we forgive you’

The first of six white former Mississippi police officers who tortured two Black men was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday morning, after telling his victims he was “so sorry”.

Hunter Elward, a former Rankin County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) deputy, was part of a group who forced their way into the home of two men in Braxton on 24 January 2023.

Elward, along with Brett McAlpin, Christian Dedmon, Daniel Opdyke, Jeffrey Middleton and Joshua Hartfield, referred to themselves as the “Goon Squad” for using excessive force which they did not report to superiors.

After breaking into the home without a warrant, the group handcuffed Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker without probable cause to believe they had committed any crime, before torturing them.

At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Elward turned to the victims and apologised, CNN reported.

“I’m so sorry,” the former officer told Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker. “I don’t want to get too personal with you, Michael.

“There’s no telling what you’ve seen. I’m so sorry that I caused that. I hate myself for it. I hate that I gave you that. I accept all responsibility.”

Mr Jenkins reportedly nodded, while Mr Parker stood up and said: “We forgive you, man”.

Elward and the others, who will be sentenced over the next few days, called the pair racial slurs during the January 2023 raid, telling them to stay out of Raskin County.

Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker were also punched, kicked, tasered 17 times, assaulted with a dildo and were forced to “ingest liquids”. Dedmon also fired his gun twice to intimidate the men.

When that was over, Elward removed a bullet from his gun and then placed the device in Mr Jenkins’ mouth before pulling the trigger. Elward then racked the gun, intending to dry-fire for a second time but instead the firearm discharged, lacerated Mr Jenkins’ tongue and broke his jaw.

Elward faced the most serious charge from the January 2023 attack – discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.

While he faced up to 30 years in prison, the judge opted for a 20-year sentence at a hearing on Tuesday morning.

After Elward fired his gun during the incident last January, and the victim lay on the floor bleeding, the defendants didn’t provide medical aid.

Instead, the Department of Justice said, they gathered outside the home to come up with a false cover story.

Part of that cover included planting a gun on Mr Jenkins, destroying surveillance footage and submitting fake drug evidence to the crime lab.

The victims then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in June 2023, with the indictments unsealed in August.

It was then that the former officers pleaded guilty to a combination of 13 felonies.

“No human being should ever be subjected to the kind of torturous, traumatising and horrific acts of violence that were carried out by these law enforcement officers,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in August.

“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 first to be sentenced was Elward on Tuesday morning, with Middleton set to follow on Tuesday afternoon. Dedmon and Opdyke will be sentenced on Wednesday, with Hartfield and McAlpin on Thursday.

Despite the words of forgiveness, Mr Parker said in his victim’s impact statement that the crime will haunt him forever.

“The very bad actions of the Rankin County ‘Goon Squad’ severely impacted me and left a scar on me forever,” Mr Parker’s statement, read by attorney Malik Shabazz, said.

“I don’t know if I will ever be able to sleep at night. I fear I will be attacked again and even killed.”

Mr Jenkins added that he did not think he would ever be the person he was before the incident.

In a statement following the guilty pleas last summer, US Attorney General Merrick B Garland said the Department of Justice would hold officers who abuse public trust to account.

“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,” Mr Garland said.

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