Hi, y'all! We’re Brian Howey and Nate Rosenfield, reporting fellows at the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today. We, in partnership with The New York Times, have been investigating the Goon Squad and allegations that Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies tortured people during arrests dating back to at least 2004. Ask us anything.

We’ve written about 22 torture allegations against a loose band of sheriff’s deputies and what Sheriff Bryan Bailey might have known about them.

Here are a few links to our coverage if you'd like to get caught up:

How a ‘Goon Squad’ of Deputies Got Away With Years of Brutality

New Evidence Raises Questions in Controversial Mississippi Law Enforcement Killing

Rankin ‘Goon Squad’ of Law Officers Admit to Hindering Prosecution in Torture Case

You can read more of our coverage on Mississippi sheriffs here. Thanks for participating in our first AMA! You can go here and here to keep up with our reporting.

Edit: Added that The New York Times is our reporting partner

Comments: 63 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

actuallyocd20 karma

Additionally, how could someone without a journalism degree (but a degree nonetheless) get involved with work like this?

MSTODAYnews49 karma

Do you mean doing investigative work? I would throw out a little bit of caution there. One thing to consider is the sensitivity and danger of this case for so many of the people involved. Our investigation was backed by a whole team of editors, lawyers and investigative reporters and the New York Times and Mississippi Today with decades of experience in pursing investigations following ethical and legal guidelines.

But there are aspects of this that anyone can pursue. Any citizen can file public records requests with these departments that abide by Mississippi's public records laws. You can attend county board of supervisor meetings and local protests and press conferences where leaders and activists are discussing this issue to learn more. And you can try to talk with public officials about their conduct and what they're doing to prevent these kinds of abuses.

It's so important for everyone to be engaged, informed, curious and invested in these issues.

I hope that answers your question,

Nate Rosenfield

CGordini18 karma

We're being told time and again about this kind of behavior from law enforcement.

LAPD/LASD is reported to have "gangs" of cops in particular.

Some additional background:

Clearly peaceful protesting against police violence (see: 2020 George Floyd and the violent responses therein, esp. at Lafayette Plaza, in NYC, and in LA) isn't working.

Clearly police cannot be trusted to be held accountable to themselves, and "internal investigations/affairs" isn't getting it done.

And clearly the FBI cannot be trusted to intervene as the top-tier of law enforcement.

Additional example*: The United States Secret Service deleting their own text messages regarding January 6th, with no oversight or consequence. Furthermore, any and all police officers both in the crowd of insurrectionists, and as part of the Capitol Police and/or Metropolitan Police Department of DC who let crowds forward intentionally, are not being held accountable to the full extent of the law.

My question is this:

What realistically can change, even with more and more reports from media outlets like yourselves?

And what defense do you have against cops with a vendetta against your media, a la Kansas's Marion County Record raid?

MSTODAYnews10 karma

Thanks for your comment!

I think these would make for great questions for your local, state and national lawmakers, who have the power to implement stronger accountability mechanisms for law enforcement agencies, something we've seen happen across the country in the wake of George Floyd's murder. One thing our and our colleagues' reporting has exposed is the general lack of effective accountability mechanisms for sheriff's departments, especially in Mississippi. That this extreme level of alleged misconduct could continue for nearly 20 years before triggering a serious investigation by a higher authority is astounding. This can change, but that change requires action by local, state and national representatives. As journalists, all we can do is deliver the truth and hope that voters and lawmakers put that information to good use.

As reporters, our best defenses against anyone that seeks to quash the freedom of the press are the First Amendment and voters. We're extremely lucky to enjoy constitutional protections that enshrine our ability to do our work with little fear of reprisals. But we've never seen a greater threat to press freedoms than we are seeing today. We rely on the public and elected officials to hold accountable anyone who seeks to infringe on those rights and protect our ability to do hard-nosed reporting. We also rely on readers who support good journalism, especially local journalism! So if you want to keep reading investigative reporting like Nate's and my deep-dive into the Goon Squad, make sure to support your local news outlet!

--Brian Howey

actuallyocd16 karma

Hey! I'm so excited for this AMA. This first question I have is probably an easy answer: do you think that there are likely other Goon Squads across the state? And if so, how can we uncover them?

MSTODAYnews22 karma

Great question! That's definitely been on our minds as well. It's hard for us to say at this point whether there are other 'Goon Squads' across the state. We've heard about similar allegations of abuse in other departments. We haven't looked into whether any of these are related yet.

It was clear from the start with the Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker case that the "Goon Squad" wasn't limited to the Rankin County Sheriff's Department. One of the men was a Richland PD officer. But we don't know the full extent of this overlap between departments or even how involved this one officer was in other incidents.

To find out more we're going to use the same old shoe leather reporting methods. Talk to people who say they've experienced this type of conduct, file records requests with the departments and pursue these questions doggedly until we find answers.

Thanks for your question!


Nate Rosenfield

Ill_Department17416 karma

have you taken a look at how many people Christian Dedmon has shot (or how many officer involved shootings he has been present for) vs any other officer at a different agency? because i think that could be interesting.

MSTODAYnews17 karma

Thanks for this question! In addition to the shooting of Michael Jenkins, we know that Christian Dedmon was present during the fatal shootings of Pierre Woods and Shawn Fondren, and that he fired his weapon during the incident involving Shawn Fondren. How that compares to officers at other agencies depends on which agency and which officer you're looking at. Many police officers go their entire careers without firing their weapons in the line of duty. A few have been involved in several shootings. As a deputy who was present for at least three shootings, Mr. Dedmon appears to fit somewhere in the middle of those two poles.

-- Brian Howey

Boring-Leg-969615 karma

Could y’all speak a little about the areas of Rankin that a lot of these incidents took place and did anything about the locations in particular facilitate officers ability to get away with unethical behavior?

MSTODAYnews28 karma

This is a great question. Based on the incidents we reviewed, the majority of these alleged torture cases occurred in low-income neighborhoods in Rankin County. Many of these local residents described near-nightly raids in their communities. Certain neighborhoods, such as the Robinhood community in Brandon, Miss., were especially popular areas for the deputies. So yes, location was a factor, but it's more complicated than that...

Nearly all of the people targeted by the deputies were suspected drug users or small-time dealers. Combine their income with their drug use, and you have a group of people who are unlikely to be believed by authority figures. And that's exactly what we saw: even in cases where people lodged complaints, filed lawsuits, and fought their criminal charges, even when they showed up to court visibly injured, there doesn't appear to have been any serious investigation conducted by anyone with the authority to do so. I hope that answers your question!

--Brian Howey

SpaceElevatorMusic15 karma

Hello, thanks for your reporting and for doing this AMA.

1) What is the state of FOIA law(s) in Mississippi, as compared to other states?

2) Are head sheriffs in Mississippi an elected or appointed position? If elected, did that in any way play a role in the, for lack of a better phrase, culture of lawlessness that developed in that office?

MSTODAYnews12 karma

The FOIA laws here are similar to other states. Actually the time span in which agencies have to respond is pretty quick here—only seven days. But like with all states, the reality is that responsiveness is going to vary by agency. Each agency has their own resources and cultures around facilitating public access to records. And there are specific provisions of the law that apply to different agencies and circumstances. I'm going to shout out Robert Wentworth at the MS Department of Public Safety as one of the most considerate, professional and swift public records administrators I've ever worked with. If you have specific questions about the laws, I'm happy to try to dig around and learn more for you.

Sheriffs are elected positions. One important aspect of how the role operates is that Sheriff's don't have other offices that they are beholden too. For instance, local police departments are usually overseen by municipal governments, which typically have the ability to fire department leaders. But that's not true for Sheriff's. Their departments can be investigated by other law enforcement agencies like MBI and the FBI for criminal conduct. And their budgetary decisions have to be approved by the county board of supervisors. But it's really hard to fire a sheriff for doing a bad job. They really have to be deposed through elections for the most part.

Whether that accounts for the lawlessness in the department, I can't say. But I would point out that Sheriff's typically have a lot power politically and legally within the counties they oversee. Our investigative series is trying to explore what kinds of abuses can occur in these departments with the current state of oversight.

Thanks so much for these great questions!

Nate Rosenfield

ck193914 karma

Podcast coming?

MSTODAYnews19 karma


--Brian Howey

magistrate10113 karma

What consequences do you reasonably expect them to face for their actions? What consequences are you hoping for?

MSTODAYnews18 karma

Our job as reporters is to try to get the truth out there. What happens after that is best left up to the public.

I can say that the sentencing guidelines for the crimes the six officers indicted this summer are currently facing are steep. They could be serving decades in prison. And that's just for those two incidents.

MSTODAYnews9 karma

Thanks for you question!

Nate Rosenfield

sirenbrian7 karma

How do we stop this happening again? Can the law be changed to prevent it being set up by other people? If so, who is stopping that from happening?

MSTODAYnews15 karma

I'll add that accountability in policing is a massive issue nationally with a long history. If you're looking for an introduction into the legal frameworks for holding police accountable I'd personally recommend this book: https://www.amazon.com/Shielded-How-Police-Became-Untouchable/dp/0593299361 It's definitely got an argument it's putting forward, but it's also a really comprehensive look at the legal frameworks currently in place and how they came to be.


Nate Rosenfield

MSTODAYnews10 karma

As a reporter I might not have the best answer for this question.

I think it's important to consider all the things that went right in this situation and helped bring the truth forward as a model for how to prevent similar abuse in the future.

A few years ago, a state law was introduced that mandated that MBI look into any officer involved shootings in Mississippi. That's what got them on the scene right away when Michael Jenkins was shot. And it's our understanding that MBI began to see signs of wrongdoing and that's when the Feds were brought in.

In all of the cases we looked into, no one was shot.

Also, the justice department conducted an incredibly swift and thorough investigation and provided a lot of detail to the public about what they found. The criminal information that was produced during the officers' indictment gave a detailed walk through of everything they did that night. This helped bring clarity and attention to the issue.

What we see in both cases is outside agencies with mandates to investigate wrongdoing by law enforcement agencies acting swiftly and informing the public.

Whether this should have happened sooner and what checks and balances to put in place to ensure that it will in the future is a bigger question it might be best to ask your local congressional leaders.

Thanks so much for this question!

Nate Rosenfield

sfslim54 karma

Is the justice department still investigating the department or other officers?

MSTODAYnews11 karma

Yes, the Justice Department is still investigating the Rankin County Sheriff's Department. A couple days after our story published, the DoJ published this press release, asking for anyone who'd experienced abuse at the hands of Rankin deputies to contact them as soon as possible.

--Brian Howey

Embarrassed_Safe5007 karma

I just want to thank y’all and the entities that underwrite your work for your hard work and dedication that it undoubtedly took to bring this reprehensible abuse of authority to the light of day. A couple of months ago, an attorney with the Rankin SO resigned (I think his last name was Holly), what can you tell us about his resignation? Also, I read where there were 6,000 write in votes opposing Sheriff Bailey, which lead me to wonder, what are the legal/political mechanisms available to Rankin county voters to remove Sheriff Bailey? Thanks again!

MSTODAYnews12 karma

Thanks so much for these kind words about our work. It was a huge task pursing this investigation but all of the engagement and passion from the people who read it made it absolutely worth it.

Paul Holley was the department's lawyer. He then briefly became undersheriff before resigning in Oct. We're not sure exactly why he resigned. He made a public statement that didn't explain exactly why he left. We found department records that showed Holley was present at one on of the incidents we reported on. We don't know what if any involvement he had though. He's working for the Attorney General's office now I believe.

The most direct and powerful legal mechanism voters have to remove Bailey is to vote during the next election. Also there needs to be organizing to rally a contender. He ran unopposed this year.

Thank you!!

Nate Rosenfield

Jerry_Quick6 karma

I only have a few minutes and will have to check back but I do have some questions and I apologize if they have been asked already.

  1. Is there a federal investigation into RCSO?

  2. Are there any additional members to the goon squad that were not present for this incident? Or is good squad use to describe the entire RCSO?

  3. Has the county leader commented on any of this? Gains, Cross? Have you attempted to talk with them?

  4. Do you know of any recall efforts or protest?

Thanks for what y’all are doing.

MSTODAYnews9 karma

Thanks for your questions!

  1. Yes, the Justice Department has investigated the incident involving Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker and filed charged against 5 deputies and a local police officer for their roles in that incident. Those six officers also face state charges for the same incident. The DoJ's investigation is ongoing, and shortly after we published our investigation, the department requested more information from anyone who'd experienced abuse at the hands of Rankin deputies.
  2. It's difficult to say who was officially a "member" of the Goon Squad, which was a night shift of patrol deputies at the Rankin County Sheriff's Department. What we can say is that we used department incident reports, dispatch records and Taser logs to identify 20 deputies who were listed as present during the additional alleged torture incidents we uncovered. Five of those deputies are currently facing criminal charges. What role those additional 15 deputies played in these incidents is hard to determine, but we were able to identify several deputies who have so far eluded criminal charges and who appear to have triggered their Tasers during several of these alleged torture incidents.
  3. We asked for comments from several local leaders before we published our story, they either declined to comment or did not respond. We will continue to ask!
  4. There have been several protests at the Rankin County Sheriff's Office and other locations around county, as well as numerous calls for Sheriff Bryan Bailey to resign. We've been told there are additional protests in the works as well...

Thank you for supporting local journalism and following our work! Inquisitive readers like you make our jobs possible (and fulfilling!) and we appreciate you so much.

--Brian Howey

rem_lap4 karma

Have you looked into other areas of Mississippi for similar corruption and/or scandals?

I've spent a lot of time in and around Leflore County, MS. It's a nice enough place and really pretty, but I always got the creepiest vibes that there was something sinister just under the metaphorical skin that local folks weren't too keen to have uncovered.

There's a whole lot of history around those parts just begging to be uncovered.

MSTODAYnews9 karma

Jerry Mitchell and Ilyssa Daly, two amazing reporters on our team, did incredible investigations into the Clay County Sheriff's Department and the Noxubee County Sheriff's Department. You should definitely check them out!

I haven't heard anything about Leflore. If you find anything out, let us know!

-Nate Rosenfield

SpecialistGear77503 karma

Has anyone retrieved the messaging apps of all rankin county SO employees and analyzed them for certain words? If you dig through their actual conversations you will quickly come to the conclusion that racial / gender animus is wide spread and the only real help is a complete overhaul and reporting system.

MSTODAYnews5 karma

Thanks for the tip!

--Brian Howey

SurvivingBigBrother2 karma

Have you guys heard of the Pasco Sheriff FL squad of deputies that would target and harass citizens? You guys should look into it. They are being sued but rumor is it is still ongoing. No physical torture but definitely psychological. I wonder how similar these groups operated.


MSTODAYnews4 karma

Yeah! There was a great investigation on this by the Tampa Bay Times. Truly insane. It seems like that was a case where official department policy went haywire, leading to potentially unconstitutional conduct rather than a group of officers engaging in explicitly criminal conduct and covering up their actions, like what's been alleged here. But there are definitely some important overlaps, good point!

-Nate Rosenfield

NEU_Throwaway12 karma

Have you had to make changes to your own lifestyle out of safety / have you ever feared for your own safety after all of this? With how insane these accounts are, I'm concerned for you all...

MSTODAYnews8 karma

I really appreciate this question and your concern for us. We definitely had to manage safety issues throughout the reporting process. We have a whole team at the Times devoted to this that we consulted with. We had to think a lot about how to protect ourselves and our sources. Fortunately, everything's worked out fine so far. But it's definitely been a stressful part of this process.

-Nate Rosenfield

Triplesfan1 karma

It amazes me that these people, Baltimore’s infamous gun trace task force, LAs ‘gang’, all operate for years before doing something stupid and getting caught. You’d think with social media, these folks would tend to gravitate together. Were you able to find any social media ties between this bunch and officers at other departments that would be outside their locale?

MSTODAYnews2 karma

Great question! We found that some of the these deputies had social media contacts with officers at other departments. That alone doesn't say much, but it's definitely a lead. We haven't spotted anything overt about collaboration in misconduct on social media though.

-Nate Rosenfield

LovePuddless1 karma


MSTODAYnews1 karma

I think you may be on the wrong thread. We're investigative reporters who can tell you about Mississippi Sheriff's Departments. I don't know a thing about engines.

-Nate Rosenfield

Eorily1 karma

Were they gooning for someone bigger than the sheriff?

MSTODAYnews3 karma

That's a big question. We're hoping to find the answer. Still very unclear at this point but if we find anything you'll know about it. Stay posted.

-Nate Rosenfield

SurvivingBigBrother1 karma

Do you truly believe the Sheriff wasn't aware like he is saying?

MSTODAYnews7 karma

I think we found some compelling evidence that the Sheriff had been alerted that there was a problem. Multiple sources told us they filed complaints, wrote letters, sent facebook messages to the sheriff directly or called him on the phone to talk about the abuse of these same deputies.

Thanks for the question!

-Nate Rosenfield

RepulsiveMistake94530 karma

Are you guys going to do an investigation into the city police departments within Rankin County? like Pearl Brandon or Richland? I read where the Pearl Police Chief was involved in at least one of the incidents. Will he be investigated? Do you think that he should be allowed to lead a force if he was apart of the Goon Squad?

MSTODAYnews1 karma

Great question! We're still looking into the level of involvement of officers at other departments. One Richland PD officer was involved in the Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker case. And we reported that the current Pearl Police Chief, Dean Scott was present at least one of the incidents in our story when he was a Rankin Sheriff's Deputy. Whether that raises questions about his fitness for office is for the community and their representatives to decide. But it's an important question!

-Nate Rosenfield

GearNoAjax-13 karma

Where are the videos and proof? No one had any you are not doing shit but starting drama. No one pay this crab any attention

MSTODAYnews7 karma

We tried to lay out the corroboration we found in the article. If you have any questions about specific cases we reported on let me know and I'd be happy to answer them.

-Nate Rosenfield