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Miss. ex-deputy gets 20-year sentence in assault of 2 men during raid

Former Rankin County Sheriff’s Office deputy Hunter Elward was sentenced to 241 months in prison for participating in the racially motivated assault of two men and a separate assault of another man

Mississippi Deputies Sentencing

FILE - This combination of photos shows, from top left, former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield appearing at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Miss., Aug. 14, 2023. Two Black men who were tortured for hours by the six Mississippi law enforcement officers in 2023 called Monday, March 18, 2024, for a federal judge to impose the strictest possible penalties at their sentencings this week. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

By Michael Goldberg
Associated Press/Report for America

JACKSON, Miss. — A former Mississippi sheriff’s deputy was sentenced Tuesday to about 20 years in prison for his part in torturing two men in a racist assault and for his role in a separate episode where a man was sexually assaulted.

Hunter Elward was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee, who handed down a 241-month sentence. Lee is also due to sentence five other former law enforcement officers who admitted to torturing Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker after a neighbor complained that the men were staying in a home with a white woman.

Before sentencing, Lee called Elward’s crimes “egregious and despicable,” and said a “sentence at the top of the guidelines range is justified — is more than justified.” He continued: “It’s what the defendant deserves. It’s what the community and the defendant’s victims deserve.”

In January 2023, the group of six burst into a Rankin County home without a warrant and assaulted Jenkins and Parker with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects. Elward admitted to shoving a gun into Jenkins’ mouth and firing in a “mock execution” that went awry.

A person phoned Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin Jan. 24, 2023, and complained that two men were staying with a woman at a house in Braxton. McAlpin told Deputy Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of deputies that called themselves “The Goon Squad.”

Once inside, they handcuffed Jenkins and his friend Parker and poured milk, alcohol and chocolate syrup over their faces. They forced them to strip naked and shower together to conceal the mess. They mocked the victims with racial slurs and shocked them with stun guns.

After a mock execution went awry when Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth, they devised a coverup that included planting drugs and a gun. False charges stood against Jenkins and Parker for months. Jenkins suffered a lacerated tongue and broken jaw.

Both men, who were sitting in the front row, called for the “stiffest of sentences.” Their attorney, Malik Shabazz, said they were too traumatized to speak in court, and he read statements on their behalf.

Elward, who wore a dark blue jumpsuit with tape obscuring the name of the facility where he is housed, said before being sentenced that he wouldn’t make excuses. He turned to address Jenkins and Parker and looked at them directly.

“I don’t want to get too personal. I see you every night, and I can’t go back and do what’s right,” Elward said. “I am so sorry for what I did.”

His attorney, Joe Hollomon, said Elward had first witnessed Rankin County deputies turn a blind eye to misconduct in 2017.

“It became the new norm, it became institutional,” Hollomon said. “Hunter was initiated into a culture of corruption at the Rankin County’s sheriff’s office.”

Elward was also sentenced Tuesday for his role in an assault on another person that took place weeks before Jenkins and Parker were assaulted.

The officers charged with assaulting Parker and Jenkins include Elward, McAlpin, Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and Joshua Hartfield, a Richland police officer. They have pleaded guilty to numerous federal and state charges.

On the federal charges, all the former officers are facing potentially decades-long prison sentences. They also agreed to prosecutor-recommended sentences ranging from five to 30 years in state court. Time served for separate convictions at the state level will run concurrently with the potentially longer federal sentences.