JACKSON, Miss. — Michael Corey Jenkins held his neck, covered in white gauze bandages, as he struggled to form words. He wanted to explain the violent abuse he endured at the hands of deputies from the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office last month.
“I was on my knees, handcuffed, and he was standing over me,” Jenkins murmured, moving only the left side of his mouth. His tongue had been surgically removed and his jaw wired shut, his mother said, as doctors repaired the damage he attributes to a bullet from a deputy’s gun. Now, his voice comes out as a barely audible, slurred mumble.
On Jan. 24, the 32-year-old says, an officer shot him in the mouth while his hands were shackled during a drug raid in his friend’s home in Braxton, Mississippi — a small, predominately white village about 25 miles southeast of Jackson, the state’s capital. For Jenkins, it was supposed to be a casual night in, hanging with his friend Eddie Terrell Parker.
“I never would’ve [thought] this would happen to nobody, to be honest with you,” Jenkins said, sitting beside Parker in his lawyer’s office. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, the local Jackson FBI field office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi announced this week that they are opening a civil rights investigation into the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office. The announcement did not mention Jenkins’ and Parker’s case.
Parker, 35, said he and Jenkins “were chilling” at the house — Jenkins in the living room and Parker in his bedroom in the back. Parker said he lives there occasionally to help the owner, a white woman who is paralyzed, take care of the house. They’ve been friends for 20 years, he said.
Around 10 p.m., a group of sheriff’s deputies rushed through the front door. Parker recalls hearing loud talking coming from the living room. When he opened his door, he saw flashlights. An officer grabbed and handcuffed him, he said.
“I was devastated to see that, even though you’re at home — not out on the streets breaking the law or nothing — being at home, it still warrants you being mistreated by law enforcement,” Parker told Capital B.
Malik Shabazz, an attorney representing Jenkins’ family, said six white sheriff’s deputies entered the home and handcuffed the men while searching the residence. When the officers didn’t find anything, they used “excessive interrogation methods to coerce a confession,” he said, adding that the deputies falsely accused the men of selling drugs and “dating white women.” He said no search warrant was issued.
For nearly two hours, the men were held by the officers who they say repeatedly punched, kicked, slapped, and shocked them with stun guns, while calling them derogatory names, Shabazz said. The torture included death threats by the deputies. They also poured liquids from Parker’s refrigerator — beer, milk, water — over their faces, Shabazz said.
The two men have suffered psychological damage from the abuse and torture, Shabazz said.
“I don’t sleep. I just sit around the house [and] every little noise makes me look around, wondering if they [are] coming back to get me,” Parker said.
In a statement Thursday, Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey said he was immediately made aware of the shooting and contacted the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to investigate the deputies’ actions.
“We are fully cooperating with that ongoing investigation and will continue to do so,” Bailey wrote. “Rest assured, if any deputy or suspect involved in this incident is found to have broken the law, he will be held accountable in accordance with the law. We will not provide any further details regarding this incident until all investigations and criminal proceedings are complete.”
Rankin County Undersheriff Randy Gray would not confirm if any of the involved officers have been placed on administrative leave.
When asked what he hopes will come from the investigation, Jenkins said, “Justice.”
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Shabazz called for the officers to be fired and charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. He’s also calling on officials to release body camera footage and drop his clients’ charges: aggravated assault and possession of a controlled substance for Jenkins, and disorderly conduct, possession of paraphernalia, and obstruction of justice for Parker.
The Rankin County prosecutor’s office said it has no record of Jenkins, nor did the Rankin County Justice Court clerk’s office.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations issued a press release the day after the shooting, noting that during a narcotics investigation, Rankin deputies “encountered a subject that displayed a gun towards the deputies.” Jenkins denies the claim.
“Our investigation shows clearly that the charges that they have placed on Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Parker are solely placed there to cover up the unlawful actions of the deputies,” Shabazz said. “The deputies here have sought to frame them because of their illegal entry … and then making the major error of shooting Michael in the mouth.”
A family in the dark
Mary Jenkins, Michael’s mother, said she received a call from an acquaintance the morning of Jan. 25 asking whether she knew her son had been shot. Panicked, she immediately began calling the hospital and law enforcement agencies. After several failed attempts to get information, she finally reached a Rankin County deputy.
The call confirmed one of her worst fears: Her son was fighting for his life at the University of Mississippi Medical Center under the supervision of law enforcement.
Desperate to see her son, she asked the officer how long they would be holding him. “Michael is our property,” she said the deputy told her, “and we can hold him as long as we want.”
When she tried to get more information about her son’s condition, a hospital representative said his name wasn’t in the system. She said she later found out he was admitted under an unknown alias. Later that evening, hospital officials called her for permission to perform surgery because he was bleeding out.
When she finally laid eyes on her son the following day, he was lying in intensive care in a medically induced coma and hooked up to a breathing machine, Mary Jenkins said.
“I told him, ‘If you can hear me, squeeze my hand,’” she said with teary eyes. “He squeezed my hand, and I knew he was doing well.”
Two days later, Michael opened his eyes for the first time. But it became more difficult for Mary Jenkins to visit her son. A deputy was stationed in his hospital room, she said, and when she asked hospital officials to see him, they directed her to speak with Rankin County.
“You can just imagine him waking up and seeing the same department that shot him in his room,” said Mel Jenkins, the father of Michael Jenkins. “Probably thinking they [fixing to] finish killing me. They [were] trying to wait for him to die.”
After learning of Michael’s $50,000 bond, Mary Jenkins, along with community members, raised $5,000 — the 10% required to raise to bail him out. After he made bail, she said they didn’t see a deputy in the room again.
A history of brutality
The Rankin County Sheriff’s Office has been the subject of other allegations of brutality and corruption in recent years. At least five people died during or immediately following encounters with the department over an eight-month period in 2021, according to an investigation from Insider.
Among them was Damien Cameron, who was allegedly beaten to death by deputies in July 2021 in front of his mother, Monica Lee, who attended the Feb. 15 press conference to support Jenkins and Parker. Officers responding to an allegation of vandalism and burglary in a residence arrested Cameron in his home while repeatedly beating him with their batons, said Pastor Carl Soto, who spoke on behalf of Lee.
En route to the jail, Cameron was not responding and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was placed on life support, Soto said. Lee took photos of her son’s battered face. He died hours later.
Soto, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk Inc., said Cameron’s autopsy results revealed he had “a cracked area of his skull in three areas, a ruptured spleen, a busted femur.” Soto said he also requested a copy of the body camera footage but was told by the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office “that the footage was lost.” A grand jury declined to indict the officers in October.
Two years before Cameron’s death, the sheriff’s office responded to a call about a shooting inside Pierre Woods’ home in Pelahatchie, a majority-white town of about 1,700 people in Rankin County. Woods was home alone on Feb. 18, 2019, and appeared “disoriented, mentally challenged and possibly intoxicated,” according to a federal lawsuit filed against the department in February 2021. At first, Woods refused to leave the house. Officers threw multiple tear gas canisters into the house that forced him to go outside.
Woods exited with his hands above his head and police began to open fire, the lawsuit alleges. “He immediately fell to the ground and even after he fell to the ground, the defendants continued to fire their weapons at Woods, which left both his body and home riddled with bullet holes. The force used by the law enforcement officers was clearly excessive and constituted a reckless disregard for Woods’ safety and welfare,” the lawsuit states.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation into Woods’ death. Capital B has reached out to the agency for an update on the case.
Staff writer Aallyah Wright reported from Jackson, Mississippi.