‘Goon Squad’ could cost Rankin County taxpayers millions, experts say
Rankin County residents could face a huge tax bill for current and future litigation involving the Rankin County “Goon Squad,” which tortured two handcuffed Black men and shot one of them, legal experts say.
Rankin officials should prepare for a flood of litigation that could cost taxpayers “many, many millions of dollars,” said Ron Silver of Portland, Oregon, who conducted the first nationwide training for federal prosecutors on how to try excessive force cases after the successful prosecution of the Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991.
In his 33 years of investigating police brutality and handling civil rights litigation, he said he has “never seen something this sadistic and corrupt” as the Jan. 24 attack that the self-proclaimed “Goon Squad” of five Rankin County deputies and a Richland police officer carried out during a warrantless forced entry, torturing and sexually abusing suspects, using “clean” thrown down weapons, planting evidence, beating suspects to coerce confessions, stealing property, conspiring to create cover stories and obstructing justice.
“This case involved race-based, vigilante terror justice,” Silver said. “I can’t tell you how many law enforcement officers are going to read this and be sick to their stomach.”
His personal feelings, he said, are “these dirty officers should stay locked up until hell freezes over.”
A $400 million lawsuit has already been filed by the two Black men who were terrorized, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker. The six former law enforcement officers, who have already pleaded guilty to state and federal charges, face sentencing in October, and the FBI investigation is continuing.
Silver said the potential for vast monetary damages against Rankin County is enormous. “There are unquestionably going to be other victims found,” he said. “They will all have strong civil rights cases against the officers and the county.”
Should the investigation discover evidence that knowledge of the Goon Squad went past the lieutenant and chief investigator, who have both pleaded guilty to charges, “the financial risk to Rankin County increases exponentially in my judgment,” he said. “Rankin County needs to be prepared for a huge financial toll from what it tolerated by its officers.”
From 1982 to 1991, Silver worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, where there were drug-related asset forfeiture cases. “I remember us discussing amongst ourselves that there was no way for a single deputy to skim money. It would only work if the whole squad was dirty,” he said. “Much to our shock it turned out the whole squad was dirty.”
As a result, many convictions were overturned, many more cases were dismissed, and deputies went to prison, he said. The same thing could happen in Rankin County, he said.
In the end, the toll could cause taxpayers to pay higher taxes and might even cause the county to go bankrupt, he said. That’s what happened in 1983 in South Tucson, Arizona, after a settlement in a police shooting case cost $4.5 million.
After police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd in 2020, taxpayers had to pay for a $27 million settlement with his family, pushing the city to the brink financially.
U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., have pushed for a bill that would create a database of misconduct judgments and settlements involving law enforcement. The Legal Defense Fund’s Thurgood Marshall Institute currently maintains a database of such judgments and settlements.
Longtime civil rights lawyer Rob McDuff of Jackson said Mississippi law regarding county liability “is complicated, but generally speaking, a county is liable for its unconstitutional customs and policies but not the unconstitutional actions of its officers on a single occasion.
“However, if those officers keep doing it again and again under the nose of the sheriff, as it seems happened here, the practice becomes a custom and an unwritten policy and the county has to pay. Given the extreme injuries and the wrongful deaths that occurred at the hands of the self-proclaimed ‘Goon Squad’ of Rankin County, I anticipate the county will have to pay many millions of dollars before it’s all over.”
In a statement, the Rankin County Board of Supervisors called the actions of these former deputies “criminal and must be punished.”
The supervisors said such criminal behavior “will not be condoned or tolerated in this community. Sheriff Bailey, his staff, and the dozens of other Rankin County deputies who faithfully and professionally serve this community run an effective, law-abiding operation that respects the right of all citizens to be free from the disturbing and criminal actions of these former deputies. We are confident that our criminal justice system is dealing appropriately with this situation and that these individuals will be punished accordingly for their actions.”
Asked about the possible financial cost to Rankin County, David Slay, attorney for the Rankin County Board of Supervisors, said the board had no other comments beyond its statement.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said he has never seen anything like the admissions these deputies made in federal court. “If you’d told me this was Mississippi in 1965,” he said, “I’d still find it hard to believe.”
Jerry Mitchell runs the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today.
Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please click here to report it and include the headline of the story in your email.
Copyright 2023 WLBT. All rights reserved.