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Mississippi 'Goon Squad' Officer Sentenced to 20 Years for Torture of 2 Black Men

Mississippi sheriff's deputy Hunter Elward faced up to 70 years behind bars for his crimes. A Mississippi judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison Tuesday.

<p>AP Photo</p> Brett McAlpin, Hunter Elward, Daniel Opdyke, Jeffrey Middleton, Christian Dedmon and Joshua Hartfield.

AP Photo

Brett McAlpin, Hunter Elward, Daniel Opdyke, Jeffrey Middleton, Christian Dedmon and Joshua Hartfield.
  • The all-White group – five former Rankin County sheriff's deputies and a former Richland police officer – admitted to their involvement in breaking into a Braxton home and torturing two Black men in a racially-motivated attack.

  • During the hours-long torture last year, deputy Hunter Elward shot Michael Jenkins in the mouth.

  • Elward was sentenced to 20 years on Tuesday. Five more members of the self-named ‘Goon Squad’ are slated for sentencing through March 21.

It began with a call from a neighbor complaining about Black men staying at a White woman’s house.

So, six White law enforcement officers – who called themselves the "Goon Squad" – broke into the home, terrorized the men with sex toys, spewed racial slurs and fired a bullet into Michael Jenkins’ mouth on Jan. 24, 2023, per a federal complaint obtained by PEOPLE.

Today, two of those former officers will be sentenced in connection to the racially-motivated attacks on Jenkins and Eddie Parker.

<p>AP Photo/HG Biggs</p> A scar runs down Michael Corey Jenkins's neck, following the Jan. 2023 attack by White law enforcement officers.

AP Photo/HG Biggs

A scar runs down Michael Corey Jenkins's neck, following the Jan. 2023 attack by White law enforcement officers.

Related: 'I Thought I Was Dead': Victims of Mississippi 'Goon Squad' Officers Recount Racist Torture, Abuse

Hunter Elward – who shot a gun into Jenkins’s mouth, nearly severing his tongue – previously pleaded guilty to discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, two counts conspiracy to deprive rights and six counts deprivation against rights, the DOJ confirms to PEOPLE. Charged with the most heinous crimes in the racially-motivated attack, the sheriff's deputy faced up to 70 years behind bars, CNNWLBT and WJTV report. A Mississippi judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison Tuesday.

Jeffrey Middleton will be sentenced this afternoon for conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to deprive rights and three counts of deprivation against rights.

<p>AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis</p> Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton

Brett McAlpin, Daniel Opdyke, Joshua Hartfield and Christian Dedmon, who previously pleaded guilty in the case, will be sentenced March 20 and 21.

In an interview with PEOPLE, Trent Walker – one of the lawyers representing Jenkins and Parker in a civil suit against the former officers and county sheriff – said he hopes the high-profile case leads to law enforcement reform in Mississippi.

“Justice doesn’t just look like these officers going to jail,” Walker says. “But it also looks like a change to the way policing is done in Rankin County– and we hope in the state and the nation.”

<p>Emily Palmer</p> Lawyer Trent Walker (C) between Eddie Parker (L) and Michael Jenkins (R). Malik Shabazz, who also represents the two men, is standing behind Walker at a press conference in Jackson, Miss. March 18.

Emily Palmer

Lawyer Trent Walker (C) between Eddie Parker (L) and Michael Jenkins (R). Malik Shabazz, who also represents the two men, is standing behind Walker at a press conference in Jackson, Miss. March 18.

Related: 6 Mississippi Officers Plead Guilty After Torturing 2 Black Men, Mocking Them with Racial Slurs

Parker worked as the live-in caretaker of a White woman with disabilities, with whom he attended high school.

She was in the hospital when, per the complaint, Dedmon messaged the squad: “Are y’all available for a mission?”

The squad broke into the home without a warrant.

<p>AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis</p> Eddie Terrell Parker (R) and Michael Corey Jenkins (C) listen as one of the former law enforcement officers admits to his involvement in the racially-motivated attack. The six former officers pleaded guilty at Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Miss. on Aug. 14, 2023.

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Eddie Terrell Parker (R) and Michael Corey Jenkins (C) listen as one of the former law enforcement officers admits to his involvement in the racially-motivated attack. The six former officers pleaded guilty at Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Miss. on Aug. 14, 2023.

Coming upon two officers in his hallway, “I had one thing in my head,” Parker tells PEOPLE. “We were going to die.”

The squad unleashed their tasers 17 times on the cuffed men “to see which one was the most powerful.”

Opdyke attached a sex toy to a BB gun and “forced the dildo into” Parker’s mouth, per the complaint.

Elward – separately named in the wrongful death suit of another Black man, Damien Cameron in 2021 – removed a bullet from his gun and forced Jenkins “onto his knees.”

<p>Emily Palmer</p> Michael Jenkins (behind him lawyer Malik Shabazz) with Eddie Parker (background) recounts that Jan. 24 night.

Emily Palmer

Michael Jenkins (behind him lawyer Malik Shabazz) with Eddie Parker (background) recounts that Jan. 24 night.

“I was looking up at him,” Jenkins tells PEOPLE. “He looked at me in my eye, I looked at him.”

Jenkins estimated 10 or 15 seconds passed before Elward pulled the trigger.

“The bullet lacerated [Jenkin’s] tongue, broke [his] jaw and exited out of [his] neck,” states the complaint.

<p>Jenkins Family Member</p> Michael Jenkins recovering at the hospital.

Jenkins Family Member

Michael Jenkins recovering at the hospital.

As Jenkins “was bleeding on the floor,” officers concocted a cover story.

Middleton suggested planting his own unregistered “throw-down” gun – which he kept in his patrol car –  to explain the gunfire.

“But it’s very hard to explain how an entry wound comes from the inside of someone’s mouth,” Walker says. “And everything unraveled from there.”

Unable to speak, Jenkins – who officers initially falsely accused of felony aggravated assault of a police officer, punishable by up to 30 years – says he spent some 20 days in the hospital. His speech is permanently slurred.

<p>Gwendolyn Eason Palmer</p> Eddie Parker, flanked by lawyers Trent Walker (in blue) and Malik Shabazz (behind him) speaks at a March 18 press conference in Jackson, Miss. Michael Jenkins, the other man tortured in Jan. 2023 is pictured standing in the back row, looking directly into the camera.

Gwendolyn Eason Palmer

Eddie Parker, flanked by lawyers Trent Walker (in blue) and Malik Shabazz (behind him) speaks at a March 18 press conference in Jackson, Miss. Michael Jenkins, the other man tortured in Jan. 2023 is pictured standing in the back row, looking directly into the camera.

PEOPLE reached out to the officer’s lawyers.

Jeffery P. Reynolds, who represents Opdyke, said his client “has admitted he was wrong, and feels deep remorse for the pain he caused the victims.”

Walker says he believes the Goon Squad – responsible for nearly two decades of terror, per an investigation by Mississippi Today and The New York Times – is still operating in Rankin County.

“I would be shocked if these were the only six members of the Goon Squad,” Walker says. “If nothing else, there are more who turned a blind eye to the brutality they witnessed going on.”

PEOPLE reached out multiple times over five days to Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey – who in the months after his deputies admitted to torturing the two Black men, ran unopposed, winning re-election in November – and to District Attorney John K. Bramlett, Jr. Neither responded by publication.

With additional allegations that the Goon Squad committed crimes and covered them up by planting evidence on their victims, Bramlett recently confirmed to Mississippi Today that he is reviewing cases handled by the former officers. It is unclear how many cases are being investigated, how far back the review would go, the results of the review or if other officers were considered in the investigation.

Emily Palmer reported from Jackson, Miss. Christine Pelisek contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

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