‘Did You Tase Him in the Face!?’ Inside ‘Goon Squad’ Deputies’ Group Chat

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Between vacation photos and cookout invitations posted on their private text thread, a group of Mississippi sheriff’s deputies who called themselves the Goon Squad traded pictures of rotting corpses and joked about rape and shocking people with Tasers.

They did it all in front of their supervisor, who often joined in the banter.

An encrypted WhatsApp group chat obtained by The New York Times and Mississippi Today provides a yearslong record of the day-to-day conversations of a patrol unit involved in terrorizing residents across a central Mississippi county for a generation.

The Goon Squad came to national attention last year after Rankin County sheriff’s deputies tortured two Black men in their home and shot one of them in the face, nearly killing him. Six officers, including three from the Goon Squad shift, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to federal prison in March.

An investigation by The Times and Mississippi Today last fall revealed that nearly two dozen residents experienced similar brutality when Rankin deputies burst into their homes looking for illegal drugs.

Most of the deputies in the chat have not been charged, and some have not been accused of violence or other illegal behavior. Several deputies said their comments were jokes and denied doing anything illegal. At least nine still work at the department.

The text thread, the contents of which have not previously been reported, shows that for years the deputies chattered routinely about ways to humiliate and brutalize criminal suspects.

Amid mundane messages about time-cards and vacation days, the deputies delighted in the violence they had witnessed and goaded one another to assault and shame people struggling with addiction or accused of crimes. They punctuated the chat with racist comments about Mexicans and memes denigrating women as sex objects, all in view of more than a dozen deputies who were part of the same unit and received the group texts.

In November 2019, the same year that the department came under review for three fatal shootings that involved Goon Squad members, the deputies discussed turning their work into a game: one point for every arrest. Deputy Cody Grogan asked the group how many points he would get if he shot someone.

“Depends if they die or not,” replied Lt. Jeffrey Middleton, the shift’s supervisor.

“They’ll die,” Deputy Luke Stickman wrote.

Mr. Grogan, who no longer works at the department, said in an interview that his text messages were “absolutely all jokes.”

“People that know me know that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to go out and shoot anybody,” he said.

Mr. Stickman, who left the department last year, did not respond to requests for comment. Carlos Tanner, a lawyer for Mr. Middleton, who is now in prison, declined to comment on his client’s behalf.

Deputies in the chat also discussed taking nude pictures of a woman they had arrested. They made plans to rough up people they disliked or suspected of crimes. They urged one another to shock people’s private parts with Tasers. One shared a video of a deputy defecating on someone’s bed.

When deputies encountered people who had died — by suicide, by homicide, in a car crash — they sometimes shared pictures of the bodies, compared states of decomposition or joked that they should have sex with them.

In May 2022, Deputy Zachary Cotton posted a picture of a man’s body found decomposing in Robinhood, an impoverished neighborhood of run-down trailers and makeshift shacks that deputies often targeted for drug raids.

“That’s hot,” Deputy Hunter Cook said in the chat.

“Poke him with a stick,” Lieutenant Middleton replied.

“5 bucks if you take a selfie with him with your arm around him,” Deputy Cook wrote.

Mr. Cook, who no longer works in law enforcement, said that while he was not proud of his texts, it is common for police officers to exchange off-color jokes about their work.

“We see dead bodies all the time,” he said. “That’s kind of how we deal with stuff.”

He also distanced himself from his colleagues accused of torturing people. “Had I known they were doing stuff like that, I probably wouldn’t have made jokes like that,” Mr. Cook said.

Deputy Cotton, who still works for the department, said he and his colleagues traded pictures of dead people out of curiosity, but did not share them outside of their chat group.

“It’s stuff that you just see on the job,” he said. “It’s not against the law. I didn’t make any vulgar comments about it.”

In a statement Wednesday, Rankin County Sheriff’s Department officials said they had been unaware of the Goon Squad nickname or deputies’ use of private chats until both were revealed in a Justice Department investigation last summer. They said the chat was an attempt to keep the Goon Squad name and illegal activity secret and that the department has since banned electronic communications between three or more deputies unless monitored by a supervisor.

WhatsApp encrypts messages, which protects users’ privacy. Messages sent through the app are not centrally recorded and therefore are difficult to obtain if users delete them.

The statement also said the department had reviewed body camera footage, complaints against deputies and other material. “Based upon this analysis, we are confident that the actions of our current employees are and will remain proper as they serve the citizens of Rankin County,” the statement said.

During court hearings in March, federal prosecutors noted that members of the group used WhatsApp to plan a 2023 raid during which they shocked Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker with Tasers, assaulted them with a sex toy and shot Mr. Jenkins in the mouth.

The department’s lawyer, Jason Dare, declined to say whether department leaders had requested copies of the group chat from deputies or Justice Department investigators.

Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey has said he was not aware of the allegations of violence against his deputies over the years and that he did not know about the Goon Squad moniker.

“I didn’t even realize that they called themselves that until last week,” he said during a press conference last August.

The chat shows that deputies working under Lieutenant Middleton began calling themselves the Goon Squad as far back as 2019. More than a dozen men — everyone who was assigned to the shift — participated in the chat, including Lieutenant Middleton, who reported directly to the sheriff.

In 2020, deputies exchanged messages about creating a challenge coin, a commemorative token commonly shared by members of a particular unit in the military or law enforcement. Lieutenant Middleton initially suggested that their coin feature images of a noose and a Confederate flag. They discussed how Sheriff Bailey would react, referring to him by his badge number, “1.”

“I’m not sure how 1 will feel about the goon squad,” Lieutenant Middleton wrote.

The final version of the coin, which the lieutenant gave to the deputies as Christmas gifts in 2022, pictured cartoonish gangsters and said “Lt. Middleton’s Goon Squad.”

“Merry Christmas Goons,” Lieutenant Middleton posted in the chat that year. He is now serving a 17.5-year prison sentence for his role in the January 2023 torture incident.

Many of the text messages come across as jokes. Some refer to specific arrests and suspects, but do not make clear whether deputies actually carried out the violence they discussed.

In 2022, deputies texted about roughing up a man arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

“Did you Tase him in the face!?” Hunter Elward wrote. Daniel Opdyke asked if they had shocked the man in the anus.

“All the neighbors were outside watching,” Deputy Cook responded in the chat, adding that if they had been in a more secluded area, the suspect would have “gotten more lovings.”

Former Deputies Elward and Opdyke are in prison after pleading guilty to the assault of Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker. Jeffery Reynolds, Mr. Opdyke’s lawyer, said he had been unable to immediately reach his client, “but obviously Tasing somebody in the anus is wrong and very disturbing.”

Mr. Cook said he texted in aggravation because the suspect was accused of abusing a child. “I didn’t do anything that was illegal or anything like that to him,” he said.

The violent acts that deputies discussed were similar to those reported by dozens of residents interviewed last year by The Times and Mississippi Today. Those residents said they had experienced or witnessed raids in which deputies restrained suspects or drove them to remote locations, then beat them, threatened to kill them or shocked them with Tasers in the face and genitals.

Many said the assaults had been directed by the department’s then-chief investigator, Brett McAlpin, whom federal prosecutors identified as the ringleader of the Goon Squad during his sentencing in March.

In 2020, the deputies texted about what to do to a man they suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run case.

Deputy Grogan offered a quote he attributed to the chief investigator.

“‘Nothing scares a man like kidnapping him’ — Brett McAlpin,” Deputy Grogan wrote.

“I’m down to make some bad choices,” Deputy Dustin Smith replied.

The deputies then joked about killing the man and burying him on Deputy Grogan’s property. Lieutenant Middleton suggested they dump the man’s body in nearby Jackson, Miss.

“They’ll never solve it,” he said.

In an interview, Mr. Grogan called his texts in the group chat “a poor decision” and said “I’ve never kidnapped anybody and I’ve never shot anybody.”

Deputy Smith, who still works for the department, declined to comment.

No one in the group, including the highest-ranking members, raised concerns in the chat about what was being said. In a 2020 text exchange, two deputies asked Lieutenant Middleton if they could beat a man they believed had exposed himself to women at local gas stations.

“That’s fine just justify it good in your report,” Lieutenant Middleton replied.

In 2022, Deputy Stefan Williams shared a video of an officer defecating on someone’s bed. Several deputies replied, appearing to reminisce about the incident.

“I was laughing so hard that day I couldn’t hardly breath,” Deputy Jeremiah Jordan said.

“Good times, lol.” Deputy Williams wrote.

“I wonder if that crack head lay his ass back on that bed?” Deputy Jordan replied.

Department records indicate that Mr. Williams no longer works as a deputy in Rankin County. He did not respond to requests for comment. Deputy Jordan, who was promoted to lieutenant, did not respond to requests for comment.

In July 2021, after Deputy Zachary Cotton reversed several overdoses using the opioid blocker Narcan, some deputies harangued him for saving the people who had overdosed.

The following month, they took turns ridiculing a woman who had tried to bite a jailer.

“Some people just need a bullet to the head,” Deputy Stickman wrote.



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