A Lawyer’s Take on Mississippi’s “Goon Squad” and the Quest for Justice

In the heart of Mississippi, the latest chapter in a chilling narrative unfolded as federal court brought to justice six former law enforcement officers. This hearing marked an end to a trial that exposed the depths of their brutality against Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, in January 2023.

While this story sounds like something straight out of segregated America, their events show in some ways that we are not far removed.

These officers, once entrusted to uphold the law in Rankin County, betrayed their oaths in a vile and reprehensible manner.

As a criminal defense attorney, my career is built on navigating the complexities of justice, defending the rights of civilians, and confronting the misdeeds of those in power. The sentencing of these officers of the now infamous “Goon Squad,” not only emphasizes the imperative for rigorous scrutiny of law enforcement but also signals a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle against police brutality. This case, with its harrowing tales of torture and racism, affirms the sobering reality that the battle for justice is far from over.

The sentences meted out by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee ranged from 10 to over 27 years in prison, reflecting the severity of the crimes committed.

In this post, we’ll dive into the implications for law enforcement accountability, the resilience of community, and the indomitable spirit of those who, even in the face of such adversity, seek justice.

The Stark Reality of Law Enforcement Fallibility

Mississippi Goon Squad case sentencing held at Thad Cochran Federal Courthouse in Jackson, MS

Unfortunately, this case serves as a sad reminder that police brutality is still yet to be eliminated in the United States. The Goon Squad is just another example of individuals who are given power without the character necessary to wield it.

Furthermore, our systems of justice fail to prevent such atrocities because they have inadequate systems of accountability and oversight. Oftentimes, the worst situations could have easily been prevented with simple checks and balances. This case showcases exactly how a lack of true accountability can lead to the harm of others such as with Jenkins and Parker.

Every day, men and women are allowed to exercise this authority over others before they’ve proven their capability to handle it. While reform may not be easy to implement, it is simple and necessary.

Unpacking the Goon Squad Case

In January 2023, in Rankin County, Mississippi, officers who identified themselves as the Goon Squad, conducted a no-warrant raid on a home where Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker were staying.

The raid was initiated after complaints from a neighbor about the presence of the two black men inside a white woman’s home. During the raid, the officers engaged in acts of physical violence and multiple forms of abuse and then attempted to cover up their actions by planting evidence.

Parker and Jenkins, who were determined to have committed no crime, endured hours of torture, including being beaten, shot (one victim was shot in the mouth), subjected to racial slurs, and attempted sexual abuse.

The abuse came to light following investigations, leading to federal charges against the officers involved. The charges included conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice.

In a series of court hearings that captivated public attention and sparked widespread outrage, the former officers were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee. Sentences for the six individuals involved ranged from 10 to over 27 years in federal prison.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray condemned the actions of the officers, highlighting the egregious nature of their conduct. The case has been seen as a significant moment in the fight against police brutality and racism and highlights the need for accountability and reform within law enforcement agencies.

The incident and subsequent trial have reignited discussions about the broader issues of racial injustice and police misconduct in the United States, prompting calls for systemic change to prevent such abuses in the future.

The Legal and Moral Implications of the Sentencing

The sentences handed down by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee in the case of the former Mississippi law enforcement officers mark a significant moment in the enforcement of federal civil rights laws. These sentences, ranging from 10 to over 27 years, underscore the judiciary’s commitment to holding law enforcement accountable for egregious violations of civil rights, particularly when those actions are racially motivated.

From a legal perspective, such accountability is crucial not only for the victims and their families but also for restoring public trust in the institutions designed to protect all members of society. This case serves as a reminder of the legal and moral obligations of law enforcement officers to uphold the rights and dignity of every individual, regardless of race or background.

The Road to Reform

Reforming policing requires a multi-faceted approach to ensure effective oversight, accountability, community engagement, and respect for civil rights.

Here are a few of the ways in which we can demand reform for policing:

  1. Enhanced Training and Education: Police officers should receive comprehensive training that emphasizes de-escalation techniques, mental health awareness, cultural competency, and the importance of civil rights. This training should be ongoing, reflecting the evolving nature of law enforcement and community relations.
  2. Body Cameras and Technological Oversight: Mandatory use of body cameras can provide transparency and a factual basis for reviewing officers’ actions. The implementation of technology like dash cams and public-access surveillance can also aid in accountability.
  3. Independent Oversight Bodies: Establish civilian review boards and independent oversight agencies with the authority to investigate complaints against police, recommend disciplinary actions, and review policing policies. These bodies should have the power to enforce their recommendations and be accessible to the public.
  4. Community Policing and Engagement: Foster stronger relationships between police and the communities they serve through community policing strategies. This includes assigning officers to specific neighborhoods long-term, engaging in community events, and facilitating open dialogues with residents.
  5. Transparent Accountability Measures: Implement clear protocols for investigating and disciplining officers who engage in misconduct. This includes public disclosure of investigations into police shootings and use of force, and the outcomes of those investigations.
  6. Mental Health Response Teams: Develop units specialized in mental health crises, composed of professionals trained to de-escalate and handle situations without resorting to violence. These teams can work alongside or independently from police when responding to calls involving mental health issues.
  7. Recruitment and Retention Strategies: Focus on recruiting officers who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and possess qualities conducive to community-based policing. Implement retention strategies that prioritize officers committed to ethical policing and community engagement.
  8. Limiting Qualified Immunity: Reevaluate the doctrine of qualified immunity, which often protects officers from lawsuits stemming from constitutional violations. Reforming or limiting this doctrine can enhance accountability and ensure no one is above the law.
  9. National Standards and Accreditation: Establish national standards for policing practices, including use of force policies, and encourage accreditation of law enforcement agencies through independent bodies. Uniform standards can help ensure consistency and accountability across departments.

Implementing these reforms requires commitment from all levels of government, law enforcement agencies, and the communities they serve. It would take a collaborative effort aimed at rebuilding trust, ensuring justice, and creating safer communities for everyone, but be well worth the cost.

Advocacy in Action: How You Can Help

Erika Baldwin, criminal defense lawyer

Every day, I fight to help those affected by prejudice, brutality, and systems designed to help anyone but the accused. I fight to level the playing field and give you the justice you seek.

You can help by writing your local police department, senator, representative, mayor, sheriff, or governor. You can also help by taking a stand and campaigning for practical solutions in kind ways. It’s important to remember that not everyone is our enemy in the fight for justice. Sometimes, we simply need to address the issues with compassion, understanding, and better ideas.

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