Ex-police officers sentenced to nearly 20 years in Mississippi torture case

Two former Mississippi police officers have been sentenced to a total of 37 years in prison for torturing two black men in their own home.

Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton are the first of six officers being sentenced this week.

Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker were beaten, shocked with stun guns and sexually assaulted by the officers.

Elward, who shot one of the victims in the mouth during a botched mock execution, was sentenced to 20 years.

Middleton was sentenced to just over 17 years.

The other four - Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Daniel Opydke and Joshua Hartfield - will be sentenced on Wednesday and Thursday.

In a statement after Tuesday's sentencing, US Attorney General Merrick Garland called the crimes "heinous".

The former officers pleaded guilty to federal civil rights offences in August.

They were charged with conspiracy against rights, obstruction of justice, deprivation of rights under colour of law, discharge of a firearm under a crime of violence, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The officers - all of whom are white, and who called themselves the Goon Squad - were responding to a call about suspicious activity in the Rankin County town of Braxton when they entered the home of Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker without a warrant.

The two men were handcuffed and subjected to an hours-long assault in which they were repeatedly beaten, shocked and mocked with racial slurs.

Elward shot Mr Jenkins in the mouth during a botched mock execution, cutting his tongue and breaking his jaw.

In court, Mr Jenkins said the encounter "severely impacted me and left a scar on me that will last forever", in a statement read by his lawyer.

A tearful Elward apologised to Mr Jenkins in court: "Mr Jenkins, I see you every day and every night. I'm so doggone sorry.

"I hate that I gave you that. I accept all responsibility."

Mr Parker replied: "We forgive you, man."

On Monday, Mr Jenkins and Mr Parker had called for the "stiffest of sentences" to be meted out to the former officers.

"It's been very hard for me, for us," Mr Jenkins told the Associated Press. "We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst."

Three of the six officers in the case have also pleaded guilty to a separate incident involving a 28-year-old white victim. The details of that incident are still unclear.

Subsequent investigations by the New York Times, Mississippi Today and the Associated Press found that the 2023 incident was part of a larger pattern of violent police misconduct spanning decades.

The Associated Press investigation linked some of the officers to at least four other violent encounters that left two people dead.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey, for whom the officers were working, is facing a separate $400m lawsuit for allegedly failing to properly train the officers.

Sheriff Bailey has asked that the suit be dismissed and, after months of silence, vowed to change the department after the officers pleaded guilty in August.