When incoming Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto takes over his new digs in January, he'll inherit a legal mess, including a federal probe and a trio of lawsuits.

WW has learned that a two-year FBI investigation of alleged civil-rights violations at the downtown jail was recently referred to Mike Mosman, U.S. Attorney for Oregon, who is now conferring with Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C., to determine whether to bring charges against anyone.

The feds entered the picture in August 2000, when Sheriff Dan Noelle announced two deaths and an alleged assault at the jail. The deaths were later determined to be unrelated to any misconduct by corrections deputies, but two of the four officers implicated in the alleged beating bore tattoos reading "Brotherhood of the Strong," sparking fears of a potential guard gang. ("Strong Arm of the Law," WW, Aug. 23, 2000).

All four officers denied wrongdoing, and only one--Sgt. Jeff Ristvet--was charged. (He was subsequently convicted of official misconduct.) Nevertheless, Noelle fired all four in March 2001.

No one will say what the FBI has found, but at a press conference in March 2001 then-Undersheriff Mel Hedgepeth told WW that some sheriff's employees believed the probe had focused on another of the four, Rodger Cross, rather than on Ristvet. When WW requested county reports on incidents involving the four, a sheriff's spokesman withheld those concerning Cross, saying the feds were reviewing them.

Cross and two other fired deputies have sued the county, saying they did nothing wrong in the alleged assault. According to one filing, Cross was "simply doing his job and defending himself against a violent criminal."