Mississippi sheriff’s office to conduct review after details of a ‘Goon Squad’ message group were revealed in news report

The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office says it will conduct a review and analysis after a Wednesday report from The New York Times and Mississippi Today detailed messages in an encrypted WhatsApp group chat between known “Goon Squad” members and other law enforcement officers, some of whom are still employed by the county.

The “Goon Squad” was the name a group of deputies gave themselves because of their willingness to use excessive force and not report it, federal prosecutors said in court documents.

Some of the messages discuss brutalizing and demeaning suspects, as well as exchanging disturbing crime scene photos and pictures of “rotting corpses,” the report said.

In one exchange from a 2022 domestic violence arrest, then-Deputy Hunter Elward wrote, “Did you Tase him in the face!?”

Fellow Goon Squad member Daniel Opdyke asked if they had shocked the man in the anus.

Another deputy said the suspect would have “gotten more lovings,” seeming to indicate they held back because of potential witnesses, saying, “All the neighbors were outside watching.”

Chat members also “discussed taking nude pictures of a woman they had arrested,” the Times reported.

Another exchange discusses deputies getting “points” for shooting someone.

The “reporting on a WhatsApp group chat is believed to contain information from a former deputy’s private cell phone. Since we cannot compel any employee to turn over his / her private cell phone data, we have requested the full private text thread from the New York Times for use in an internal review and analysis,” an attorney for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to CNN.

“There are three individuals who remain employed with this Department that were added to this private group chat by a former deputy, and none are alleged to have violated someone’s constitutional rights or committed any criminal act,” the statement said.

Former deputies and Goon Squad members Elward, Opdyke and Jeffrey Middleton all participated in the chat reviewed by the Times and Mississippi Today. Former Deputy Brett McAlpin is also mentioned in one exchange, according to the report.

McAlpin, Middleton, Elward and Opdyke, along with former Deputy Christian Dedmon and Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield have all pleaded guilty to the sexual assault and kidnapping of two innocent Black men, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, in Rankin County in January 2023. They are serving concurrent state and federal prison sentences.

The planning of the assaults on Jenkins and Parker took place on WhatsApp, according to the Department of Justice. It is unclear if the group chat referenced by the Justice Department is the same as the one on which the Times and Mississippi Today reported.

CNN has not obtained the full group chat that was described in the report.

One member of the group chat, who no longer works for the sheriff’s department, called his messages “absolutely all jokes,” in an interview with the New York Times.

Neither the department nor Sheriff Bryan Bailey “knew of the existence of ‘a shift of officers who called themselves the ‘Goon Squad’ until a bill of information was filed in federal court,” the sheriff’s office statement said.

The statement continues, “It was also around this time we learned that the five former deputies coordinated their criminal activity via private text messaging, presumably in an attempt to avoid detection by this Department and Sheriff Bailey.”

In March, after the sentencing of the former law enforcement officers, CNN spoke with attorney Jeff Reynolds, who represents Opdyke. Reynolds noted Opdyke cooperated in the case by sharing the WhatsApp encrypted text messages.

“The explanation by some that they were just ‘joking’ about torturing people in their what they thought were secret WhatsApp texts rings hollow given the multiple incidents of torture that have now been documented,” Reynolds said Wednesday in a statement to CNN about the latest report.

CNN has reached out to attorneys of the other Goon Squad members alleged to have taken part in the chat for comment but has not received a response.

Malik Shabazz, the lead attorney for Jenkins and Parker, said the “latest revelations regarding the Rankin County Mississippi ‘Goon Squad’ text messages are not surprising at all.”

“For years, the lawlessness of Rankin County deputies, especially the night shift, had become notorious to residents. Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker were not shot and tortured in a vacuum. There will be much more to come,” Shabazz said.

“It was just unbelievable,” Angela English, president of the NAACP Rankin County chapter, told CNN, speaking about the report. “What I have read is extremely disturbing … we will not give up the fight.”

Mary Asa Lee, communications director for Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, told CNN in an email the office does not “comment on open investigations.”

The office of US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Todd Gee also declined to comment on the current investigation.

But earlier this month, Gee, along with members of his criminal and civil rights divisions, held a listening session in Rankin County inviting residents to share accounts of police misconduct.

“We know from members of the public who have already called… that there have been a lot of other incidents here in Rankin County over the years,” Gee said. “I can’t emphasize enough to you, please let us know what has happened to you, what has happened to your friends, what has happened to your family.”

CNN’s Ryan Young contributed to this report.

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