CRIME

San Francisco Deputies Charged For Allegedly Forcing Inmates To Fight

The district attorney says guards in a county jail watched as prisoners were pitted against each other.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two sheriff department deputies and one former deputy were charged for allegedly turning the county jail here into a "fight club" where two mismatched inmates were forced to battle each other while guards watched, according to the San Francisco district attorney and the FBI

If the inmates, who were significantly different in size, refused to fight, the former deputy threatened to handcuff them, beat them and douse them with Mace or shock them with a Taser, according to District Attorney George Gascon.

“These are serious crimes that damage the moral authority of law enforcement,” Gascon said in a statement. “Subjecting inmates who are in the care and custody of the state to degrading and inhumane treatment makes a mockery of our justice system and undermines any efforts towards rehabilitation.”

The fights took place on two consecutive days in March 2015, and the smaller inmate, Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, believed that he possibly fractured a rib during the gladiator-style competition. 

Gascon contended on Tuesday that Scott Neu, the former San Francisco Sheriff's Department deputy, was the ringleader. Neu also forced an inmate to do pushups against his will and made others gamble in order to receive food, clean clothes and bedding, Gascon said. 

The alleged misuse of powers covers a period from October 2014 to March 2015, when the city's public defender brought the jailhouse scandal to light. 

"It appears the culture in the jail combined with a lack of a comprehensive surveillance system allowed sadistic bullies to flourish," Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Tuesday in a statement. "I remain deeply concerned [about] a jail environment that allows abuse to fester and in-custody deaths to continue unabated." He called for installing security cameras in secluded areas of the jail to prevent further abuse.

The alleged crimes took place under former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose tenure was marred by controversies including his own arrest for allegedly grabbing his wife’s arm in a domestic dispute and a deputy’s unprovoked attack on a hospital patient.

"I came into office to implement changes," said Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who took office in January. "The vast majority of people who work here work hard under difficult conditions. We want to make sure that everyone is held accountable for good or bad."

Some deputies went years without performance reviews, Hennessy said, though she was unsure if the three in this case fell into that category. She said she's reviving the annual evaluations and would like to find money to hire an ombudsman for the department and to purchase body cameras for guards.

Harry Stern, an attorney for the union representing the deputies, has previously said the reports of the fighting were "exaggerated," and that it amounted to "little more than horseplay," according to the Associated Press.

Neu had already survived a previous scandal in which inmates accused him of forcing them to perform sexual acts on him, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. That case was settled out of court.

He's been charged with 17 counts, including four felony counts of assault by officer under color of authority and four felony counts of criminal threats. He faces more than 10 years in state prison if convicted. 

Deputy Clifford Chiba allegedly was a spectator during the first fight and failed to halt it. Gascon said that the guard even offered advice to one of the inmates during a later round of the involuntary bout. He's been charged with two misdemeanor counts of cruel and unusual punishment and one count of willful omission to perform official duty, which are punishable with an 18-month sentence. 

Deputy Eugene Jones, like Neu, allegedly ordered the inmates to fight the second time and watched it for his amusement. The prosecutor charged him with two counts of assault by officer under color of authority and three misdemeanors. If convicted, he could serve more than five years behind bars. 

While the case is pending, it’s likely that Jones will be placed on administrative leave and that Chiba will be reassigned to a non-custodial, non-public job within the system. 

The deputies are expected to surrender to authorities.

This story has been updated with comment from the sheriff's department.

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