Police Misconduct

Miss. deputies accused of sticking guns in mouths of 2 Black men

Several jurisdictions in Mississippi are under a federal investigation for alleged civil rights violations.

HG Biggs / AP
SMS

Several deputies from a Mississippi sheriff’s department being investigated by the Justice Department for possible civil rights violations have been involved in at least four violent encounters with Black men since 2019 that left two dead and another with lasting injuries, an Associated Press investigation found.

Two of the men allege that Rankin County sheriff's deputies shoved guns into their mouths during separate encounters. In one case, the deputy pulled the trigger, leaving the man with wounds that required parts of his tongue to be sewn back together. In one of the two fatal confrontations, the man's mother said a deputy kneeled on her son's neck while he told them he couldn't breathe.

Police and court records obtained by the AP show that several deputies who were accepted to the sheriff's office's Special Response Team — a tactical unit whose members receive advanced training — were involved in each of the four encounters. In three of them, the heavily redacted documents don't indicate if they were serving in their normal capacity as deputies or as members of the unit.

Such units have drawn scrutiny since the January killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black father who died days after being severely beaten by Black members of a special police team in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols' death led to a Justice Department probe of similar squads around the country that comes amid the broader public reckoning over race and policing sparked by the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Video of events before death of Irvo Otieno to be released this week
Video of events before death of Irvo Otieno to be released this week

Video of events before death of Irvo Otieno to be released this week

The video footage of Irvo Otieno arrest has not been publicly released, but prosecutors are expected to release it this week.

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In Mississippi, the police shooting of Michael Corey Jenkins led the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. Jenkins said six white deputies burst into a home where he was visiting a friend, and one put a gun in his mouth and fired. Jenkins’ hospital records, parts of which he shared with AP, show he had a lacerated tongue and broken jaw.

Deputies said Jenkins was shot after he pointed a gun at them; department officials have not answered multiple inquiries from the AP asking whether a weapon was found at the scene. Jenkins’ attorney, Malik Shabazz, said his client didn’t have a gun.

“They had complete control of him the entire time. Six officers had full and complete control of Michael the entire time,” Shabazz said. “So that’s just a fabrication.”

Rankin County, which has about 120 sheriff's deputies serving its roughly 160,000 people, is predominantly white and just east of the state capital, Jackson, home to one of the highest percentages of Black residents of any major U.S. city. In the county seat of Brandon, a towering granite-and-marble monument topped by a statue of a Confederate soldier stands across the street from the sheriff's office.

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In a notice of an upcoming lawsuit, attorneys for Jenkins and his friend Eddie Terrell Parker said on the night of Jan. 24 the deputies suddenly came into the home and proceeded to handcuff and beat them. They said the deputies stunned them with Tasers repeatedly over roughly 90 minutes and, at one point, forced them to lie on their backs as the deputies poured milk over their faces. The men restated the allegations in separate interviews with the AP.

When a Taser is used, it’s automatically logged into the device’s memory. The AP obtained the automated Taser records from the evening of Jan. 24. They show that deputies first fired one of the stun guns at 10:04 p.m. and fired one at least three more times over the next 65 minutes. However, those unredacted records might not paint a complete picture, as redacted records show that Tasers were turned on, turned off or used dozens more times during that period.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was brought in to investigate the encounter. Its summary says a deputy shot Jenkins at approximately 11:45 p.m., or about 90 minutes after a Taser was first used, which matches the timeframe given by Parker and Jenkins. The deputy’s name was not disclosed by the bureau.

Police say the raid was prompted by a report of drug activity at the home. Jenkins was charged with possessing between 2 and 10 grams of methamphetamine and aggravated assault on a police officer. Parker was charged with two misdemeanors — possession of paraphernalia and disorderly conduct. Jenkins and Parker say the raid came to a head when the deputy shot Jenkins through the mouth. He still has difficulty speaking and eating.

Another Black man, Carvis Johnson, alleged in a federal lawsuit filed in 2020 that a Rankin County deputy placed a gun into his mouth during a 2019 drug bust. Johnson was not shot.

There is no reason for an officer to place a gun in a suspect’s mouth, and to have allegations of two such incidents is telling, said Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska.

“If there are incidents with the same kind of pattern of behavior, they have their own set of rules,” he said. “So these are not just chance experiences. It looks like a very clear pattern.”

Jenkins doesn't know the name of the deputy who shot him. In the heavily redacted incident report, an unidentified deputy wrote, “I noticed a gun.” The unredacted sections don't say who shot Jenkins, only that he was taken to a hospital. Deputy Hunter Elward swore in a separate court document that Jenkins pointed the gun at him.