A Bluffton Jiu Jitsu instructor was arrested late Tuesday in connection with an armed casino takeover in California last month, Maj. Joseph Manning of the Bluffton Police Department said.
Benjamin James Rhodes, 40, owner of Cross Rhodes Jiu Jitsu on Sherington Drive, was arrested at his business on charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment, Manning said. He is accused of being one of 15 people involved in a tribal confrontation at a casino in Madera County, Calif., according to Manning and the Madera County District Attorney’s Office.
Rhodes was arrested without incident, at the request of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, according to Manning, and he has been charged in Beaufort County with being a fugitive from justice. He awaits extradition in the Beaufort County Detention Center.
In California, Rhodes will be charged with seven counts each of kidnapping and false imprisonment, eight counts of assault and battery with a firearm, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery inflicting serious bodily harm, and five counts of assault with a stun gun, according to an Oct. 31 news release from the Madera County District Attorney’s Office.
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His bond will be set at $800,000, according to Bluffton police.
A student instructor at Cross Rhodes Jiu Jitsu, who declined to be named, said he was unaware of the arrest and did not know what ties Rhodes had to California.
Rhodes was involved in an Oct. 9 confrontation of two tribal factions at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, Calif., the Madera County District Attorney’s Office says.
Among those charged is Tex McDonald, who leads a faction of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, the Fresno Bee of California reports. McDonald’s tribal police chief, John Olivera, was charged, as well.
McDonald had control of the casino until late August, when members of another tribal faction — overseen by Reggie Lewis and Nancy Ayala — entered the casino in the early morning and “holed up” in some of the hotel’s offices and suites, according to the Fresno Bee.
Law officers allege that on Oct. 9, a group directed by McDonald went inside the casino and started a battle with the other faction to try to take back control of gaming commission offices, the Fresno Bee reports. A spokesman for McDonald’s faction told the newspaper the leaders and tribal officers endangered no one in their lawful attempt to regain control of the offices.
One of Rhodes’ students, Tom Crenshaw, echoed those thoughts Wednesday. He said his friend and instructor is not a violent man and has a long history working with law enforcement and the military.
“I have no doubt whatsoever he was sworn in as a law enforcement agent and was doing what he thought was his duty,” Tom Crenshaw said. “I know him to be of the highest character.”
Rhodes has worked as a state trooper and police officer in Virginia and Myrtle Beach, according to Andy Henson, a Lynchburg martial artist who has known Rhodes for more than 20 years.
Henson said the instructor canceled an upcoming seminar in Virginia on Tuesday night, stating he had an emergency, but was shocked to learn Rhodes had been arrested.
“He’s an awesome guy. This doesn’t sound like him at all,” Henson said. “It sounds crazy.”