Mississippi Sheriff Shirks Accountability Following ‘Goon Squad’ Torture Of 2 Black Men
Despite reportedly calling the actions of his former deputies the worst case of police brutality he has ever seen, Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey is arguing in court that qualified immunity should protect him from any further liability.
Back in March, an Associated Press investigation discovered that some of the department’s deputies, who had nicknamed themselves the “Goon Squad,” took part in at least four violent incidents involving Black men. One of the Black men was Pierre Woods, who was shot and killed by Rankin County deputies in 2009. Two of those deputies went on to participate in the racist violence enacted against two other Black men – Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker – on Jan. 24. Jenkins and Parker were tortured by the so-called “Goon Squad.”
According to court records, officers handcuffed and assaulted Jenkins and Parker with stun guns, a sex toy, and other objects. The officers also used racial slurs against the two men.
As CBS News reported, on Oct. 6, Bailey’s attorney Jase Dare asked to have the $400 million lawsuit filed by Jenkins and Parker against his client dismissed.
On Oct. 13, Malik Shabazz and Trent Walker, the attorneys for Jenkins and Parker, said that asking to have the lawsuit dismissed was an attempt by the sheriff to dodge accountability.
Walker released a statement that read, “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.”
Dare’s motion to dismiss contains an argument stating that the allegations of Jenkins and Parker are not sufficient to penetrate the shield of qualified immunity, and thus Bailey should not be held accountable for the actions of his deputies. Furthermore, he says in the motion that the deputies were involved in training that complies with the law, so they were also adequately trained.
The six ex-officers all pleaded guilty on Oct. 16 to a litany of state charges, in addition to the federal charges they pleaded guilty to on Aug. 3. The actions of deputies Brett McAlpin, Jeffery Middleton, Christian Dedmon, Hunter Edward, and Daniel Opdyke as well as ex- Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield could cost Mississippi taxpayers in Rankin County millions of dollars. According to Mississippi Today, Ron Silver, an expert in investigating police brutality and civil rights litigation, says their tax bill could skyrocket.
“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.” Silver also warned that, should the investigation go past the lieutenant and chief investigator, “the financial risk to Rankin County increases exponentially in my judgment,” and finally, “Rankin County needs to be prepared for a huge financial toll from what it tolerated by its officers.”
In April, Senators Edward Markey and Ayanna Pressley re-introduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act; the legislation notes that qualified immunity was an invention of the Supreme Court. The practice is not protected by law enacted by Congress, unlike the ability to sue officials who violate their rights, which is covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1871.
In the press release accompanying the announcement of the Act, Pressley stated, “Police brutality is a crisis plaguing Black and brown communities, and a crisis that will continue to go unchecked until we end the dangerous, unjust, and court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity.”
Pressley explained, “For too long, qualified immunity has prevented accountability and shielded those charged with enforcing the law from any consequences for breaking it. Our bill would restore necessary civil rights protections and is essential to providing the families of those abused by law enforcement with the healing they deserve. Structural change is necessary to address this crisis and save lives, and that must include ending qualified immunity.”