Two former Rankin County Sheriff’s Office deputies tied to the “Goon Squad” scandal were connected to fatal police uses of force against Black men in their Mississippi county years before the unlawful home raid in which two Black men were brutalized this year.
In 2019, both deputies were present when police fatally shot a man in Pelahatchie, Mississippi, and one deputy was involved in a 2021 death in which a man was asphyxiated during arrest, but both those uses of force were deemed justified by authorities. That pattern would change this year.
Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, three other ex-deputies, and one Richland police officer unlawfully entered the Braxton, Mississippi, home of Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker on Jan. 24.
None of the officers had a warrant for the men’s arrest. Both men were beaten, shocked, tortured and humiliated for more than an hour as the officers threatened the pair because they were living with a white woman.
The incident turned more heinous with Elward shooting Jenkins in the mouth and lacerating part of his tongue. On Aug. 3, all six officers pleaded guilty to federal charges, including excessive force, arising from this horrifying incident.
A lawsuit filed in 2021 reveals that Elward and Dedmon were present when police officers shot and killed a man named Pierre Woods in 2019.
The complaint filed by Vanessa Barrett and Dris Mitchell names both former deputies as defendants.
In February 2019, Pelahatchie police and Rankin County deputies responded to a call about shots fired at the Pelahatchie home where Woods was inside. Authorities said Woods fired at them from inside during a standoff that lasted more than an hour until police threw tear gas into the home.
“Although Woods had a pistol in one of his hands, both his hands were extended above his head as he approached the front door,” lawyers for the women wrote in court documents. “Once he reached the front door of his home, Woods immediately threw the pistol to the ground, and it landed in the area where Deputy Hunter Elward and Deputy Zach Acy were positioned.”
The officers are said to have started shooting without warning Woods.
Lataskin Woods, Woods’ brother, said that he believes the officers engaged in excessive force when his brother was shot.
“They fired enough shots to kill an elephant,” Woods said to WAPT around the time of the fatal shooting. “You’ll go to jail for shooting a dog as many times as they shot my brother.”
In 2021, Elward was involved in a contentious incident where Damien Cameron was punched and shocked three times with a Taser by the deputy. The man was accused of vandalizing a neighbor’s home.
Reports state that Elward was joined by other officers who held Cameron down for over 15 minutes despite his complaints of breathing difficulty.
The Mississippi state medical examiner’s report on Cameron’s death was inconclusive, and in October 2022, a Mississippi grand jury declined to press charges against Elward and other deputies due to insufficient evidence.
However, The New York Times consulted three independent forensic pathologists to review Cameron’s death, and they identified signs of asphyxiation in his neck, suggesting a different cause of death.
While the two deputies were never held responsible for using force in their previous cases, Dedmon and Elward have pleaded guilty in their current case and are awaiting sentencing.