ST. PETERSBURG — It sounded like a good idea to George Grayson: Get $50 for submitting to a 12-minute videotaped beating by an attractive female.
A homeless man, Grayson needed the money.
So he followed the recruiters to a St. Petersburg townhouse on seven different occasions over the last few months, he said, and let five different women use his body and face as a punching bag.
Grayson, 37, became one of many St. Petersburg homeless men allegedly targeted by recruiters from Shefights.net, a locally operated website that sells for as much as $900 videos of scantily clad or semi-nude women beating up men, according to a lawsuit.
"I'm still in a little bit of pain from a couple of weeks ago," Grayson said last week. "I'm just trying to deal with it mentally right now."
Local homeless advocate G.W. Rolle said for months he noticed men walking around Williams Park with black eyes, split lips and limps before he finally got someone to tell him about the "beatdowns," as they have come to be known among the homeless.
He began interviewing and photographing several men with similar stories and injuries, and attorneys representing two of the men have filed a lawsuit against Jeff Williams of Shefights.net, J.P. Florida Productions, "Cindy Doe" and "Jane Does 1-5."
Southern Legal Counsel, which has represented St. Petersburg's homeless in the past, filed the suit seeking an injunction to stop the beatings, saying the men were vulnerable and desperate for money. It also seeks damages for medical costs and emotional distress.
"I was shocked when I found out what was really going on," Rolle said. "It's incredible what people will do to each other."
Williams, of Shefights.net, said Rolle coaxed and bought the testimony of Grayson and 20-year-old Kyle Shaw, the two plaintiffs in the suit. He said he plans to countersue, claiming the men and their advocates lied and have damaged his reputation.
"These men are crack addicts and will say anything for money," Williams said.
He said Grayson and Shaw were featured in some of the videos, but he said they signed liability releases and knew what they were doing.
"They've come back many times, which makes it pretty consensual," Williams said. Citing the case, he declined to speak about the videos or other specifics.
The homepage of the Shefight.net site features women in sports bras punching or kneeing doubled-over men. It reads, "We offer semi-competitive and competitive wrestling, MMA, and kickboxing sessions, as well as beatdowns (which we really love!). We also make custom videos to your specifications. We are located in Saint Petersburg, FL."
Previews of the videos describe scenarios such as, "This is the second part of Julie's domination beatdown of Army Guy. In this final part, she whips her biggest admirer with a crop, tramples him, puts him in bondage, spits on him, and totally humiliates and dominates him while also displaying her usual array of kicks and punches. This is a Julie very few have seen before."
In some of the featured clips, the women are topless. The site offers custom videos, made for the buyer's specifications, starting at $600.
Rolle digitally recorded hours of homeless men describing similar experiences of being recruited on the street and taken to a townhouse on First Avenue S between 16th and 17th streets. Some described the beatings happening in a garage, some say they were beaten in a back yard in front of spectators.
The men say they were offered $25 to be whipped and $50 to be beaten by the women. They were not allowed to fight back, they say, and did not get paid if they quit before the 12 minutes expired.
The lawsuit filed against Shefights.net alleges that Shaw suffered broken ribs, a dislocated jaw, back injuries and a dislocated arm on two different visits to 73 16th St. S. Grayson, the suit says, sustained bruises and multiple lacerations.
Jail records show Shaw in the past has been charged with theft, criminal mischief and simple battery. Grayson has been charged with burglary, robbery and dealing in stolen property.
Williams, 58, of Shefights.net, has no criminal record.
Many homeless people have criminal records, Rolle said. But they also have mental disorders and health problems, which is why they should not be beaten in a garage with no regulation or medical supervision, he said.
The two men listed in the suit are too easily coaxed into doing the wrong thing, he said.
Grayson has autistic tendencies and has a hard time following logic, he said, and Shaw has an extremely low IQ.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.