Sheriff Is ‘Shocked’ at Jackson’s Claims of Being Mistreated
The Santa Barbara County sheriff called Wednesday for a state investigation into allegations by Michael Jackson that he was mistreated while in custody, and threatened to seek criminal charges against the pop star if his claims are found to be groundless.
Jackson was arrested Nov. 20 on suspicion of child molestation and held at the Santa Barbara County Jail for 63 minutes during the booking process. He was released on $3 million bail.
The singer has been charged with seven felony counts of child molestation and two felony counts of providing an intoxicant to a minor for purposes of seduction.
In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that was broadcast Sunday, Jackson said his shoulder had been dislocated and his arm injured by deputies who manhandled him.
He also said he had been locked for 45 minutes in a jail bathroom with feces smeared on the walls, floor and ceiling.
At a news conference Wednesday, Sheriff Jim Anderson strongly rejected the allegations, saying he was “shocked and troubled” by the charges.
He played video and audio tapes that he said supported his deputies. Jackson was treated with “the utmost respect and courtesy,” Anderson said.
On an audiotape recorded during his ride to jail after he arrived at the Santa Barbara Airport on a private jet from Las Vegas, Jackson was heard whistling and humming to himself and responding “wonderful” when asked by a deputy how he was doing.
“His treatment by this department can only be described as professional,” Anderson said.
“The entire booking process was personally supervised by the jail command staff. At no time during this process did Mr. Jackson complain of any injury incurred during the course of the arrest or mistreatment by the jail staff.”
Anderson said he had asked state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to investigate whether Jackson’s rights had been violated during his arrest.
The sheriff said he would then consider whether to seek criminal charges against Jackson for allegedly making false public statements about police brutality.
Jackson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, did not respond to a request for comment. But in a statement to Associated Press, Geragos said that he welcomed a state investigation and that Jackson stood by the charges he had made.
Further, Geragos said that the sheriff’s release of the audio and videotapes had been illegal.
The issue of Jackson’s treatment by sheriff’s deputies coincides with another continuing controversy over reports of increased involvement in Jackson’s business and personal affairs by the Nation of Islam, headed by Louis Farrakhan.
Jackson’s brother Jermaine, who is a Muslim, first sought the Nation of Islam’s help for security reasons after the allegations of child molestation surfaced, according to several people involved.
Farrakhan sent his chief of staff and son-in-law, Leonard Muhammad, to supervise an increased relationship, those sources said.
The result was a dispute in recent weeks between the Muslims and leaders of Jackson’s previous inner circle, according to several people close to Jackson. The conflict was made public after the departure of longtime Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman, who Geragos said had been fired Dec. 20 after speaking without the lawyer’s permission at a Neverland party for Jackson supporters.
Backerman said Wednesday that he would not speak publicly about the dispute. Several other sources, however, said his departure had come after he said that he did not want the Nation of Islam involved with the entertainer.
Geragos said reports that the Nation of Islam held influence over Jackson were untrue. “It’s a joke,” he said. “The next thing I know, they will be saying aliens have taken over Michael’s body.”
The Nation of Islam also issued a brief statement Tuesday, saying: “The Nation of Islam, in response to several inquiries, has said today that it has no official business or professional relationship with Mr. Michael Jackson. The Nation of Islam joins thousands of other people in wishing him well.”
Several legal experts said the back-and-forth between Jackson and the sheriff added a credibility problem for the singer.
Robert Pugsley, professor of criminal law at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles, said the sheriff’s readiness to bring the attorney general’s office into the case showed that Anderson was confident he could prove Jackson’s story might be a lie.
“His claim now becomes an object of investigation,” Pugsley said. “Now the question is, did he fabricate the charges. And what’s critically important here is that Jackson’s lawyer has not filed any formal complaints on this. He’s simply adding to his list of problems.”
Agreeing that Jackson’s credibility probably would be damaged by his statements, Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levinson said that, although state Department of Justice guidelines permit such an investigation, it is questionable whether state law would allow officials to charge Jackson with a crime if they determined his statements had been false.
“The law speaks of filing an allegation of misconduct and requires law enforcement to warn any complaining party that they might be prosecuted for a misdemeanor if caught making a false statement,” she said. “It’s not clear that it allows for criminal prosecution in casual speech.
“But I do think it will affect his credibility. Assuming he can’t back this up, he will be giving people the impression that he plays it fast and loose, and that he makes fabrications when he thinks it will help him. Even if that doesn’t come up in the courtroom, it is already out there for the potential jury pool.”
Lockyer was quick to accept Anderson’s request.
“I cannot predict when our investigation will be completed, but we will work as quickly as possible to conduct a thorough and fair investigation ... and ensure that appropriate action is taken as necessary,” he said.
Responding to Jackson’s comments about being locked in a bathroom coated with feces, the sheriff said the pop star had been “escorted to a holding cell ... designed to hold up to seven individuals and had a toilet located in one area. He was alone in the holding cell for approximately 15 minutes.”
“The cell,” Anderson said, “had been cleaned by a work crew” just before Jackson’s arrival.
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton contributed to this report.