The Mississippi sheriff’s department said Tuesday it had fired several deputies after two black men accused them in a federal lawsuit of beating, torturing and sexually assaulting them. One of the men was nearly killed when an officer put a gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger, the lawsuit says.
The two men, Michael Jenkins, 32, and Eddie Parker, 35, filed a $400 million federal lawsuit this month against the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. The lawsuit describes the alleged actions of the officers as «one of the worst and most bizarre incidents of police misconduct in United States history.»
“Due to recent developments, including findings during our internal investigation, all deputies still employed by this department have been terminated,” Sheriff Bryan Bailey said Tuesday, reading from a prepared statement. The department declined to say how many officers were fired.
“We understand that the alleged actions of deputies have eroded the public’s trust in our department,” added Bailey, who is named in the lawsuit. «Rest assured that we will work diligently to restore that trust.»
Malik Shabazz and Trent Walker, attorneys for the two men, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The FBI, the Department of Justice and the US Attorney’s Office for Southern Mississippi have opened a federal civil rights investigation.
Rankin County, one of the most populous counties in Mississippi, is located across the Pearl River from Jackson, the state capital. Its population is 74% white and nearly 23% black, according to the 2022 census. It borders counties with large black populations in a state that has long struggled with a violent racial history.
The incident comes in a national reckoning over excessive use of force by officers, with particular scrutiny of attacks against blacks. Recent shootings and beatings, including the deaths of Aderrien Murry in Indianola, Mississippi, and Tire Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, have again brought the issue to the fore after the country faced massive protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020.
Jenkins and Parker, who lived together at the time of the alleged assault, claimed in the federal lawsuit that officers entered their home without cause or warning. The officers beat them, choked them, stunned them, sexually assaulted them and attacked them with racial slurs, the men say in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers hurled racial slurs at the men and angrily accused them of dating white women. They allegedly handcuffed and beat the men before Tasering them 20 to 30 times «in a sadistic competition among themselves as to which Taser would be more effective when fired at these two victims,» according to court documents.
The officers then turned the two men on their backs and poured water in their faces in an effort to drown them, the lawsuit claims, before sexually assaulting them with a sex toy.
Multiple officers put their guns to the men’s heads and threatened to kill them, the lawsuit says.
The evening ended when an officer put a gun to Jenkins’ mouth while he was handcuffed, according to the lawsuit. The shot allegedly shattered Jenkins’ jaw and severely lacerated his tongue. Several of Jenkins’ arteries were severely damaged and he nearly died, he says. He then was left alone to seek help, court documents allege.
While the sheriff’s department did not say how many deputies were relieved, a spokesperson said all those at the scene were fired after the internal investigation. The lawsuit said there were six officers at the scene, though it only named three, including Deputy Hunter Elward.
Elward could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Elward, the officer accused of shooting Jenkins, was previously involved in the death of Damien Cameron, a 29-year-old black man whose neighbor accused him of vandalism and called police in 2021. the department has said.
A grand jury declined to indict Elward last year, citing a lack of evidence. Mississippi Public Broadcasting reported Monday that his family was still seeking justice nearly two years later.
The lawsuit says Bailey, the sheriff, “directly engages in acts of excessive force with officers he supervises and has been denied qualified immunity by this court” before naming multiple incidents in which his officers are alleged to have used excessive force.
Bailey said it remained his «privilege» to lead the department.
“I believe in my heart that this department continues to be one of the best departments in our state, and I am committed to doing everything in my power to keep this department on the right track,” Bailey said, reading from his statement.
As reporters peppered him and a spokesman with questions Tuesday at the end of the news conference, Bailey made his way slowly and quietly toward the door. She stopped to say only that he wouldn’t quit and that he couldn’t answer any more questions.