Update: The FBI has agreed to launch a criminal investigation of the case as a possible civil rights violation.
“We were asked to look into it,” FBI spokesperson Prentice Danner said Tuesday morning. “We are looking into it.”
Original: San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has asked the FBI to consider launching a criminal investigation into allegations that a rookie deputy repeatedly punched an inmate in the face at County Jail.
The deputy, Alex Jayson, allegedly socked inmate Deshaun Roberts in the head about five times last Thursday afternoon after Roberts initially refused an order to go to his cell at County Jail No. 5 in San Bruno.
Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, a candidate for district attorney who has been advocating for a new system to investigate misconduct in the department, brought the allegations to the San Francisco Examiner.
Boudin said Roberts needed treatment for head injuries including swelling.
Jayson, who joined the department as a deputy in April 2017, has been transferred out of the jail and is being moved into a position where he has no contact with the public, according to sheriff’s spokesperson Nancy Crowley.
Crowley said Hennessy reached out to the FBI on Monday morning after the department began to review surveillance footage and interview witnesses in the case.
“The chain of command responded to this appropriately and immediately,” Crowley said.
The incident is just the latest allegation of excessive force to surface against the department in recent years.
In February, the Examiner first reported on allegations made public by the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi that more than a dozen inmates had been physically abused by deputies in late 2018.
That same month, prosecutors dismissed charges against three deputies accused of making inmates fight like gladiators because the Sheriff’s Department botched the investigation.
“These repeated incidents of assaults on inmates by sheriff’s deputies are an outrage and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Boudin said. “We need immediate leadership and accountability to address this ongoing and deeply entrenched problem.”
Responding to the issues, Supervisor Shamann Walton plans to introduce legislation to increase accountability in the department.
The legislation could require the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Police Accountability to investigate certain cases of deputy misconduct. It might also create a commission to impose discipline on deputies.
“This is another example of why this independent oversight is overdue,” Walton said. “We are working on overdrive to eliminate these civil rights abuses.”
Boudin recounted the allegations to the Examiner based on witness interviews.
The incident started at around 1:10 p.m. when Jayson ordered Roberts to go to his cell because he had his hands in his pockets in violation of jail rules, according to Boudin. Roberts was headed from one class to another at the jail’s Five Keys Charter School.
Roberts at first complied, but then turned around and asked for a grievance form. After Jayson yelled at him several times, Roberts began to walk toward his cell.
But then Jayson allegedly grabbed his arm. Roberts yanked his arm away and faced off with the deputy.
Boudin said Jayson then pushed the inmate in the chest with both arms. After Roberts retreated, Jayson allegedly began to punch him on both sides of his face.
Jayson then brought Roberts to the ground and handcuffed him.
Ilona Solomon, a deputy public defender who represents Roberts in his criminal case, said more than one witness was “concerned enough” to tell her about the incident.
“It sounds like Deshaun was following orders to go to his room and the officer instigated the altercation by grabbing him when he was already doing what he was supposed to do,” Solomon said. “It didn’t seem like there were grounds to punch him multiple times and throw him to the ground.”
After the incident, Jayson filed a request with his superiors seeking to impose discipline on Roberts for refusing orders to be handcuffed. Crowley said the request was declined and Roberts was not disciplined.
He was, however, transferred to another County Jail in San Francisco.
Roberts is in jail awaiting sentencing for a felony first-degree robbery charge after being convicted by a jury. Solomon described the crime as a “purse snatch.”
Ken Lomba, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, did not respond to a request for comment on behalf of Jayson.