A police operation at a California casino that involved a Bluffton jiu-jitsu instructor was legal and nonviolent, despite charges filed against the Bluffton man and 14 others in late October, the defendants' lawyer says.
Benjamin Rhodes, 40, owner of Cross Rhodes Jiu Jitsu, was hired by the police chief of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians to help expel "trespassers" -- members of another tribal faction -- from a casino hotel in Madera County, Calif., attorney Jeff Reich said.
Rhodes, along with the police chief, John Olivera, tribal leader Tex McDonald and 12 others, were later charged with a slew of felonies, including multiple counts of kidnapping, false imprisonment, and assault and battery, according to the Madera County District Attorney's Office.
Rhodes has a history of law-enforcement and military service and remains at the Beaufort County Detention Center, awaiting extradition to California, where his bond will be set at $800,000.
Reich, of Fresno, said he was hired by the Picayune Rancheria tribal council to represent Rhodes and the other men involved in the Oct. 9 incident. Reich said he has spoken with Rhodes' wife.
She has declined to comment, other than through friends.
"I'm convinced he's innocent of any wrongdoing, and we look forward to proving that in court," Reich said Thursday. "I think he performed his job as he was asked to do, so I'm confident that's ultimately what the evidence will show."
Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Fogg declined to comment on the case and said he did not know when Rhodes would be brought to California.
It was not clear Thursday how Rhodes and several other non-California residents were hired by McDonald's tribal faction. David Leibowitz, a spokesman for the faction, said they might have met the police chief, Olivera, through work with other agencies.
Olivera, a veteran, previously served as assistant special agent in charge with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and had 25 years of experience in law enforcement and security, according to an October Chukchansi Tribal Council news release announcing his hire.
Leibowitz and Reich said Olivera and McDonald led the operation at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, Calif., to regain control of gaming commission offices from members of another tribal faction, led by Reggie Lewis and Nancy Ayala. Those offices contained records necessary for the completion of an audit, Leibowitz said.
The spokesman said the McDonald faction met with a member of the Madera County District Attorney's Office to discuss its plan before carrying it out. Reich said a lawyer accompanied the group on its mission.
Nobody was injured, Leibowitz added.
"The tribe was well within their rights," he said. "We believe in this case; the district attorney has massively overreached their authority, and what's unfortunate is that people like Mr. Rhodes are kind of caught in the middle of this really bad political prosecution."
"It's incredibly unfortunate," Leibowitz added. "He did nothing wrong."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.