Sheriff Who Presided Over Violent ‘Goon Squad’ Tries To Play Dumb

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“Nobody’s ever reported that to me,” Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey said after his deputies admitted to brutalizing innocent people.

Jacob Sullum |

A police officer making an arrest | Photo: gorodenkoff/iStock

(Photo: gorodenkoff/iStock)

“I’m just floored and shocked,” Rankin County, Mississippi, Sheriff Bryan Bailey said last August after five of his former deputies admitted to punching, kicking, tasing, torturing, and humiliating two men during an unlawful home invasion the previous January. “This is a perfect example of why people don’t trust the police, and never in my life did I think it would happen in this department.”

According to an investigation by The New York Times and Mississippi Today, however, Bailey had plenty of reasons to think something like this would happen in his department. Similar things had been happening in Rankin County “for nearly two decades,” the Times reported in November.

“Narcotics detectives and patrol officers, some [of whom] called themselves the Goon Squad, barged into homes in the middle of the night, accusing people inside of dealing drugs,” the paper said. “Then they handcuffed or held them at gunpoint and tortured them into confessing or providing information.”

The Times and Mississippi Today corroborated “17 incidents involving 22 victims based on witness interviews, medical records, photographs of injuries and other documents.” Those cases almost always involved “small drug busts,” and the accusers “described similar tactics.” Deputies “held people down while punching and kicking them or shocked them repeatedly with Tasers.” They “shoved gun barrels into people’s mouths.” Three people “said deputies had waterboarded them until they thought they would suffocate,” while “five said deputies had told them to move out of the county.”

Although the federal charges that drew national attention to police brutality in Rankin County involved two black victims, Bailey’s deputies were equal-opportunity abusers. They “appear to have targeted people based on suspected drug use, not race,” the Times said. “Most of their accusers were white.”

The deputies’ pattern of abuse was reflected in complaints and lawsuits. “More than a dozen people have directly confronted Sheriff Bailey and his command staff about the deputies’ brutal methods,” the Times noted, and “at least five people have sued the department alleging beatings, chokings and other abuses by deputies associated with the Goon Squad.”

Bailey said he had never heard of the Goon Squad and had no reason to think his deputies were abusing their authority. “Nobody’s ever reported that to me,” he said in August, and he “never, ever could’ve imagined” that the five convicted deputies, who included a man he said he knew “well” and had chosen as investigator of the year in 2013, were capable of “these horrendous crimes.”

Bailey, who was reelected in November after running unopposed, rejected calls for his resignation. “I’m going to fix this,” he promised. “I’m going to make everyone a whole lot more accountable.”

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