Mississippi Goon Squad & the Need for Police Reform

In the heart of Mississippi, a disturbing incident unfolded that once again has shaken the nation’s faith in its law enforcement institutions.

Six individuals, who called themselves the “Goon Squad,” were brought to justice for their heinous acts against Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker. This case, emerging from Rankin County, not only highlighted the egregious misuse of power but also underscored the systemic failures allowing such transgressions to occur.

As a South Carolina criminal defense lawyer, Ashaley Boatrwright, a retired Marine and founder of Boatwright Legal, finds these events all too familiar and indicative of a broader, more pervasive issue. “This kind of behavior is atrocious and, unfortunately, happens more often than we know,” Boatrwright observes, pointing to the underlying culture of impunity that emboldens such actions.

Case Summary

Federal Judge sentencing the Goon Squad

 

The brutal actions of these officers, which included beatings, shooting Jenkins in the mouth, and sexual assault, led to federal charges of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice.

Their sentencing by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee ranged from 10 to over 27 years in prison, marking a significant moment in the enforcement of federal civil rights laws and highlighting the urgent need for police reform and accountability.

The ‘Goon Squad’: A Symptom of a Systemic Sickness

The actions of the ‘Goon Squad’—a self-ascribed moniker that chillingly reflects their brutal approach to law enforcement—cast a long shadow over the principles of justice and duty they were sworn to uphold.

Their unwarranted raid, marked by extreme violence and racial animus, serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive police reform. For too long, such incidents have been shielded from public scrutiny, often dismissed or minimized by the very institutions tasked with ensuring accountability.

“This case alone signifies the importance of being able to hold the police accountable for their actions,” states Boatwright, emphasizing the critical need for mechanisms that can effectively curb the excesses of law enforcement. The sentencing of these officers, while a step towards justice for Jenkins and Parker, also opens a broader conversation about the measures necessary to prevent future abuses of power.

Envisioning Robust Police Reform

At the core of the call for reform is the demand for transparency and accountability—principles that should guide the operations of every law enforcement agency. Boatwright advocates for a series of reforms designed to restore public trust and ensure that officers uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.

1.) Mandatory Body Cameras: A Step Toward Transparency

“We need to require body cameras to be worn by all officers that the officer has no control over,” suggests Boatwright. The implementation of body-worn cameras has been shown to reduce incidents of excessive force and complaints against officers significantly.

By recording interactions between police and the public, these devices offer an unbiased account of events, providing crucial evidence in cases of misconduct.

2.) Independent Oversight: Ensuring Accountability

Another pillar of Boatwright’s reform agenda is the establishment of independent oversight bodies with the authority to investigate claims of police misconduct. “We need to have independent agencies investigate claims of misconduct,” he asserts.

The creation of civilian review boards and other independent oversight mechanisms can help break the cycle of internal investigations that too often result in minimal disciplinary actions or outright exoneration of officers involved in misconduct.

3.) Enhanced Training and Community Engagement

Central to the reform agenda is the overhaul of police training programs to emphasize de-escalation techniques, cultural competency, and the importance of civil rights. Such an approach not only prepares officers to handle a wide range of situations more effectively but also fosters a culture of empathy and respect towards the citizens they are sworn to protect.

Moreover, promoting community policing strategies that encourage positive interactions between officers and community members can bridge the gap of mistrust. Establishing regular community meetings, youth engagement programs and collaborative community projects can strengthen ties and promote a sense of shared responsibility for public safety.

4.) Reforming Qualified Immunity and Enhancing Legal Recourse

A significant barrier to accountability has been the doctrine of qualified immunity, which often shields police officers from lawsuits for violating constitutional rights unless the rights were “clearly established” at the time. Boatwright argues for a reevaluation of this doctrine to ensure that victims of police misconduct have meaningful access to legal recourse.

5.) National Standards and Accreditation

Another cornerstone of the proposed reforms is the establishment of national standards and accreditation processes for law enforcement agencies. Having uniform standards across the board for critical aspects such as use-of-force, body camera usage, and the procedures for handling misconduct investigations is crucial for ensuring that all police departments operate under a consistent framework of accountability.

This would eliminate the patchwork of policies that currently exists, which can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, sometimes even within the same state.

To reinforce these standards, the introduction of accreditation by independent bodies is recommended. These organizations would have the authority to evaluate and certify that law enforcement agencies meet established criteria, serving as an extra layer of oversight and guaranteeing that departments adhere to best practices in policing.

The Power of Advocacy and Community Involvement

Botwright Legal’s commitment to justice extends beyond the courtroom. Boatwright emphasizes the importance of community involvement in the reform process. Participating in local government, supporting policy reforms, and staying informed on law enforcement practices are ways the public can contribute to the movement for better policing.

Envisioning a Future of Accountable Policing

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As the nation grapples with Goon Squad’s atrocities and the challenge of reforming its police forces, the work of dedicated individuals like Boatwright and organizations like Botwright Legal serves as a call for change. The path to change is complex and fraught with resistance, but the imperative to act has never been clearer.

The moral imperative to seek justice and enact change remains undiminished. “Nothing is worse than the ones that are supposed to protect us, turning and hurting us instead,” Boatwright poignantly remarks, capturing the betrayal felt by communities across the nation when faced with police brutality.

The team at Botwright Legal stands with the victims of police brutality everywhere in demanding better by way of transformative changes to policing.

“We need to expect better, we need to demand better, and most importantly, we need to mandate better,” Boatwright declares, calling on society to elevate its standards and hold law enforcement to account.

The time is now. Enough is enough.