Rankin County Sheriff’s Office cleaning long overdue – Sheriff Bailey inescapably responsible for what happens on his watch

Photo via Rankin County Sheriff’s Department X (formerly Twitter) @RankinCountySO

By Christopher Young,
Contributing Writer,

What’s that old saying – a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet there are 62 words on the www.rankincounty.org website that caught my eye: “Sheriff’s Office…Responsibilities….The Sheriff’s Department is the chief law enforcement agency in Rankin County. The Sheriff and his deputies respond to calls for emergency service, enforcing local ordinances, state and federal law, and maintaining a sense of tranquility by visibility in the communities they patrol. Thus they take responsibility for the safety and well-being of all persons living in and visiting Rankin County.”
A big job – lots of responsibility. This description sounds good on its face, but sadly we know that these words above don’t apply to everyone in Rankin County, nor do they wholly reflect the commitment of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. We know, and the entire nation now knows of the recent atrocities – the grossly illegal and inhumane torture inflicted upon two black men, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker on January 24, 2023, by white law enforcement from Rankin County.
Despite all eyes being on this recent delivery of racially motivated horror, majority-white Rankin County has a long history of racist behavior. Several locals have shared anecdotal memories of Rankin County as a haven of hatred toward African Americans.
Recently a retired attorney told of showing up there in the courthouse in 1969 to represent a client in a divorce case, and being told by the judge, “N..ger get out of my courtroom.” He was qualified and licensed by the State of Mississippi to practice law, but not suitable to the judge because of the color of his skin.
Five years prior, https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/264774/united-states-v-jonathan-r-edwards-jr-sheriff-of-rankin-county/ tells us it was alleged that then Sheriff Jonathan Edwards had “threatened, intimidated, and coerced and attempted to threaten, intimidate, and coerce non-registered Negro citizens of voting age in Rankin County for the purpose of discouraging them from registering to vote and from voting for candidates for federal office.” Factually, the complaint charged that appellee struck and beat a Negro named Grim who was standing in the Circuit Clerk’s Office waiting for two other Negroes to finish registering to vote, and at the same time, two other people, believed to be the appellee’s deputies, struck two Negroes who were registering. The complaint further charged that “On February 1, 1963, and continuing to the time of the filing of this complaint, the defendant threatened, intimidated, and coerced and attempted to threaten, intimidate, and coerce non-registered Negro citizens.”
But in June 1964, the Fifth Circuit ruled: “It is the considered judgment of this Court that an injunction would not be proper on account of this past event because the Court is satisfied that it will not happen again. It is purely a local grievance for which these Negroes are probably entitled to redress for the acts of this deputy but injunctive relief is not suggested.”
In dissent, storied Justice John R. Brown wrote, in part, “I need not quarrel with the facts found or the inferences to be drawn. In their naked, raw, undisputed form, they are shocking. The Sheriff of this Mississippi County beat up a Negro at the entrance to the voter registration office while two other Negroes – who were inside trying to register – were being struck by two of the Sheriff’s deputies. Worse, from the witness stand, the Sheriff, a large, tall person in contrast to his small victim, openly boasted that “I struck [Grim] just as many times and fast as I could.” It was no act of self-defense.”
The lengthy timeline of these events in Rankin County up to the present day includes the era of 40-year Rankin County lawman, J.B. Torrence, who after many years as constable and deputy, was elevated to sheriff and served in that capacity for 24 years, from 1972 to 1996. Various news reports describe him as possessing quiet intensity and having an imposing physical presence. Unofficial telling’s share a continuing reign of terror for African Americans during his watch.
Nearly seven months after Sheriff Bryan Bailey’s Goon Squad – as his deputies Christian Dedmon, Hunter Elward, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton and Daniel Opdyke along with Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield, liked to call themselves – these six white law men pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges and state charges for their horrific and ungodly behavior against Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker, per reporting by CNN and other sources.
Under their federal convictions, Dedmon and Elward each face up to 120 years in prison, plus a life sentence. Opdyke faces up to 100 years; McAlpin, up to 90 years; Hartfield and Middleton, up to 80 years each.
On the state level, prosecution recommendations included these sentences: Elward, 15 years in prison; Dedmon, 10 years; McAlpin and Middleton, eight years; Opdyke and Hartfield, five years.
Seth W. Stoughton, law enforcement expert and professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, called the acts “reminiscent of the most blatant racist abuses by police in the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era. This was a lynch mob of officers, pure and simple.”
The environment enabled the Goon Squad to operate, he said. “An investigator knew exactly who to call, and they knew exactly how to communicate to do something like this,” he said. “That’s not spontaneous, it’s the result of the tacit or explicit approval of the supervisors and agency,” all per Mississippi Today reporting.
But the sheriff – the top Rankin law man – takes no ownership. Per numerous sources he has painted the picture that he is a victim of the Goon Squad’s behavior. He has claimed that his deputies lied to him, that he is sick to his stomach over this, that he didn’t know anything about the existence of the Goon Squad, that he is in disbelief, that he has tried to build a reputation and tried to have a safe county and that the Goon Squad robbed him of that.
White law enforcement do not plead guilty to abuses of African Americans in Mississippi, do they? In Rankin County, do they? But they did. Repulsive hateful torturous behavior does not occur in a vacuum – it occurs against a backdrop of similar behavior. The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office needs cleaning, and the head of the culture, the one who claims to be a leader while portraying himself as a victim, must go away.
Think for a moment about all the voices in Rankin County and elsewhere who have been completely silent in the midst of this brazen abuse of power. President Barack Obama reminds, “Change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.”
How about just showing up in support, Rankin County? On Saturday, August 26 at 2 p.m. there will be a National Summit Against Police Brutality and Injustice at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, 925 Trickhambridge Road in Brandon. People of goodwill can pack this church Saturday, demonstrating that all Mississippians are worthy of respect and accountability for their actions.

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