Members of ‘Rankin County 6’ no stranger to allegations of civil rights violations, assault

Federal court filings, incident reports show eleven other cases involving at least one of those deputies since 2010
Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 8:12 PM CDT
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RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - As far back as 2010, federal court documents allege former Rankin County investigator Brett McAlpin attacked a man and unlawfully entered his home.

Eight years later, Jeremy Paige claimed McAlpin punched him in the face after a traffic stop, and “narcotics officers” dragged him to his home.

A handwritten letter from jail describes how deputies tried to coerce Paige into making a drug deal in their presence.

Now the behavior of the “Rankin County 6” remains on full display to the public following Thursday’s guilty pleas, making some question these previous cases and whether those deputies’ actions could have been spotted years before they tortured and assaulted two Black men, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Parker, in January.

Those convicted former officers -- ex-Rankin County deputies Brett McAlpin, Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke, and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield -- now await sentencing for their crimes, including obstruction of justice, deprivation of rights under color of law and conspiracy against rights.

A 3 On Your Side analysis of federal court filings found eleven other cases involving at least one of those former Rankin County deputies.

It did not find any federal cases connected to Hartfield.

Date of IncidentOfficers involvedDescription of allegationsOutcome of case
June 7, 2010Brett McAlpinBrett Gerhart accused McAlpin of attacking him and unlawfully entering his homeDismissed with prejudice after reaching settlement
August 1, 2018Brett McAlpinJeremy Paige accused McAlpin of stopping him, punching him, and watching while narcotics officers dragged Paige inside his home, where they tried to get him to make a drug deal with a phone in their presenceDismissed with prejudice
December 9, 2018Christian DedmonJim Giles accused Dedmon of arresting him without probable cause and accused deputies of fabricating charges against him to effect an arrestDismissed with prejudice (failure to prosecute)*
February 18, 2019Christian Dedmon, Hunter ElwardDedmon and Elward both responded to a Pelahatchie standoff where officers killed Pierre Woods, alleging he had a weapon; it’s unclear if Dedmon fired his weapon, but Elward fired a rifle eight times and claimed to have gotten hit in the head by Woods’ gunOpen
February 23, 2019Brett McAlpin, Christian DedmonCarvis Johnson accused McAlpin of beating him after a traffic stop and allowing actions of Dedmon and other deputiesDismissed with prejudice (failure to prosecute)*
August 2, 2019Daniel OpdykePierre Harris accused Opdyke of assaulting him while he was restrained and incarcerated in the Rankin County Detention CenterDismissed with prejudice (failure to prosecute)*
August 31, 2019Christian DedmonRCSO incident report names Dedmon as one of two deputies who killed Shawn Fondren, hitting his vehicle multiple times after he ran from deputies attempting to serve a warrantNo legal action taken
July 23, 2020Hunter ElwardCarvis Johnson accused Elward of pushing and injuring him, refusing to give him medical attentionDismissed with prejudice (failure to prosecute)*
July 2021Hunter ElwardThe mother of Damien Cameron claims Elward tased her son, punched him, and kneeled on his back for at least 15 minutes; Cameron died hours later after being found unresponsive in RCSO vehicleGrand jury failed to indict
April 2022Christian DedmonDedmon and other deputies opened fire on Jonathan Sanchez after Sanchez himself brandished a rifle and fired at them; Sanchez had been running from officers and wrecked; Sanchez killed himselfNo legal action taken, case with Mississippi Bureau of Investigation remains open
December 4, 2022Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Daniel OpdykeDedmon punched, kicked and tased a man, discharging a firearm near him to coerce a confession; Elward and Opdyke did nothing to interveneAll three pleaded guilty and await sentencing
January 24, 2023Brett McAlpin, Hunter Elward, Daniel Opdyke, Jeffrey Middleton, Christian Dedmon, Joshua HartfieldDeputies tortured and beat Michael Corey Jenkins, Eddie Parker; Elward and Dedmon waterboarded and tased them; Dedmon sexually assaulted them with a sex object; Elward shot Jenkins in the mouth; all deputies devised cover story and fabricated story, charges to keep from being caughtAll six pleaded guilty and await sentencing

Of those cases WLBT analyzed, nine ended with no legal action against the deputies.

Most were dismissed in federal court, in some cases, because the victim did not go forward with prosecuting the case.

Only one of the ex-Rankin County officers had been convicted and sentenced previously, too: Jeffrey Middleton, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to vehicular manslaughter with culpable negligence after he struck another vehicle with his patrol car while working for the Jackson Police Department.

The driver of the other vehicle, 23-year-old Desmonde Harris, died.

After the guilty plea, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter sentenced Middleton to two years probation.

Middleton joined the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department a year later.

“If there is an organizational culture of inaction, complicitness, looking the other way on certain things...that can then allow individuals or groups of individuals to have the perception that they can get away with anything,” Ole Miss criminal justice professor Wes Jennings said.

A lack of punishment when officers violate the law can make bad cops’ behavior only escalate, Jennings said.

Sometimes their own role in the department can do so, too.

“[There’s] the idea of blurring these lines. In specialized units, they tend to have a longer leash than you would have in just traditional patrol officer functions to allow them the ability to step over the line here and there,” Jennings said. “[They can] get information and intel that you can’t get from normal traditional means, but again, that doesn’t come without risk.”

The Memphis police officers who killed Tyre Nichols on January 7 were members of a specialized response unit within the department known as the Scorpion Unit.

In Rankin County, that specialized unit is called the Special Response Team.

Most of the deputies who pleaded guilty Thursday were members of it, and were also members of the “Goon Squad,” aptly titled in court documents because of their use of excessive force.

Usually the one who can keep other members of the group from getting caught is the one put in charge of that group or shadow organization, Jackson State Criminal Justice Professor Kevin Lavine said.

Studies mention “grass eaters” and “meat eaters” to distinguish those who make unethical decisions -- a discount from a restaurant -- from those who commit heinous acts, the carnivores in this case.

“The leader of the meat eaters is generally a veteran officer, who the other individuals have a great amount of respect for, and trust. And of course, you already had a blue line, you know, the camaraderie with the blue line, the ‘us versus them’ mentality that sometimes occurs within the ranks,” Lavine said.

To Lavine’s point — and he reiterated several times in the interview that he’s speaking theoretically, not specifically to the Rankin County situation — that leader is typically someone who’s been in the department for a long period of time, is close to the higher-ups, and can shield other members of the group if need be.

The federal bill of information against the Rankin County 6 labeled Middleton as the leader of the Goon Squad.

Studies suggest it could have also been McAlpin based purely on his status as the longest-serving deputy among the others, but information revealed by federal investigators did not show McAlpin involved with the torture or abuse of Jenkins and Parker, nor the shooting itself. Rather, McAlpin helped facilitate aspects of the coverup that followed.

“Once that coalition forms, then whatever illegal activity — it could be escorting drug dealers — which we had happened at local agency before. That’s the path that they’re gonna go down,” Lavine said. “They don’t generally branch out into anything else, you know. Whatever they do, such as a goon squad title, then whatever that Goon Squad was formed for, that’s generally what they stick to.”

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