Mississippi sheriff aims to avoid liability from federal lawsuit over torture of Black men

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FILE - Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, right, speaks to an attendee at an employer engagement forum in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 4, 2021. Bailey, the Mississippi sheriff who leads the department where former deputies pleaded guilty to a long list of state and federal charges for the racist torture of two Black men has asked a federal court to dismiss a civil lawsuit against him, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi sheriff who leads the department where former deputies pleaded guilty to a long list of state and federal charges for the torture of two Black men has asked a federal court to dismiss a civil lawsuit against him.

Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker were abused in a case of extrajudicial violence that even the sheriff they’re suing called the worst case of police brutality he had ever seen.

But Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey’s attorney argues Jenkins and Parker’s $400 million lawsuit against Bailey should be dismissed because the sheriff is entitled to “qualified immunity,” a legal concept that often shields police officers from civil penalties for alleged abuses.

Court records show that attorney Jase Dare asked to dismiss the lawsuit on Oct. 6, just one day after a settlement conference was filed with the court. A settlement conference is scheduled when the parties in a lawsuit try to settle a case before trial.

On Friday, Jenkins and Parker’s attorneys, Malik Shabazz and Trent Walker, called Dare’s motion “meritless.”

“We believe that the totality of the evidence shows the brutality of the ‘Goon Squad’ was a longstanding problem. The brutality was not just limited to these five deputies, and it’s something that has existed during the entirety of Bryan Bailey’s tenure as sheriff,” Walker said.

In January, five white former Rankin County deputies and a police officer from a nearby department burst into a house without a warrant after someone phoned one of the deputies and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman.

The officers handcuffed and assaulted Jenkins and Parker with stun guns, a sex toy and other objects. The officers also used racial slurs over a 90-minute period that ended with former deputy Hunter Elward shooting Jenkins in the mouth during a “mock execution.” Then, the officers devised a cover-up that included planting drugs and a gun, leading to false charges that stood against the victims for months.

Prosecutors say some of the officers nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and cover up attacks.

In March, an Associated Press investigation linked some of the deputies to at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries. One of those men was Pierre Woods, who was shot and killed by Rankin County deputies in 2019.

A family member sued Bailey over Woods’ death. Court records show a settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount has been reached through the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ mediation program. The settlement still must be approved by a chancery court.

At least two of the deputies who shot at Woods, Elward and Brett McAlpin, went on to participate in the illegal raid in January.

For months, Bailey said little about the episode. After the officers pleaded guilty to civil rights charges in August, Bailey promised to change the department.

In his motion, Dare said Jenkins and Parker do not allege that Bailey personally participated in the events but failed to train the deputies adequately. He said internal department policies show the deputies underwent training that complies with the law. He also said none of the allegations are enough to overcome qualified immunity and hold Bailey liable for the illegal actions of his deputies.

The law enforcement officers include former deputies McAlpin, Elward, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke, and a former Richland police Officer Joshua Hartfield, who was off-duty during the assault. They agreed to sentences recommended by prosecutors ranging from five to 30 years, although the judge isn’t bound by that.

They are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 14.

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