San Francisco Public Defender: Jail Inmates Forced into ‘Gladiator-Style’ Fights
San Francisco Sheriff’s deputies allegedly forced inmates at a county jail to engage in “gladiator-style” fights, betting on the outcomes and threatening violence, including rape, as punishment for prisoners who refused to participate.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi accused at least four sheriff’s deputies of threatening inmates with physical harm or withheld food if they did not fight for the officers’ entertainment, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Adachi said the deputies forced at least one inmate to train, and told others to lie if they needed medical treatment due to injuries resulting from the violent matches.
“I can only describe this an an outrageously sadistic scenario,” said Adachi, describing the alleged abuse as like something “out of Game of Thrones.”
Adachi accused deputy Scott Neu of being the ringleader of the ‘fight club.’ The deputy allegedly forced 150-pound (68 kg) inmate Rico Palikiko Garcia to fight 350-pound (159 kg) Stanly Harris twice this month at County Jail No. 4 at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street in the city’s South of Market neighborhood.
“[Neu] told me anything goes,” Garcia told the Chronicle. “Just don’t punch the face, so no one can basically see the marks. But anything goes, other than the face.” Garcia said he cannot sleep on his side because of intense pain resulting from the fights and believes his ribs may be broken.
“I don’t know why he does it, but I just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I just see the look on his face,” Garcia said. “It looks like it brings him joy by doing this, while we’re suffering by what he’s doing.”
Harris accused Neu of threatening to anally rape him if he failed to properly prepare for his fights, training which allegedly included being forced to do 200 push-ups within an hour. Inmates told investigators deputies threatened to handcuff, beat and pepper spray them if they refused to fight. They were also promised prizes, including hamburgers, for winning.
CBS San Francisco reports this isn’t the first time Neu has found himself in trouble. In 2006, he was accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate, forcing her to perform oral sex on him. He also allegedly forced two transgender inmates to do the same, resulting in an out-of-court settlement in 2009.
Adachi named three other deputies—Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely—as suspects in the case.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he was “extremely disturbed” by the allegations, telling reporters that an internal investigation has been launched.
“I do not accept any kind of culture within our county jail system that would resort to such barbaric or unlawful activity as these deputies have demonstrated,” Mirkarimi, formerly a progressive city supervisor (councilman), said.
District Attorney George Gascón called the allegations “deplorable.”
“Common sense indicates that such conduct does not occur without the knowledge of numerous people,” Gascón said in a statement. “These allegations require an independent and thorough investigation into the practices and supervision of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.”
Harry Stern, an attorney representing the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the deputies’ union, said the shocking allegations were “exaggerated,” calling the fights “little more than horseplay.”
“The hypocrisy of Adachi engaging in trial by one-sided press conference cannot go unchallenged: He has done a cursory sham investigation by interviewing a few inmates over a scant two days rather than having the decency to request a serious impartial investigation,” Stern said in a statement.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Adachi didn’t initiate a formal complaint that would have been investigated thoroughly by the appropriate agencies,” Stern’s statement continued. “The investigators would have had the opportunity to interview witnesses, including the accused deputies, and look for physical evidence.”
Matt Gonzalez, the public defender’s chief attorney, told the Chronicle the latest allegations are indicative of systemic problems in the sheriff’s department.
“These acts cannot occur without the implicit acceptance of otherwise law-abiding deputies,” Gonzalez, a former mayoral and US vice presidential candidate, said. “It is impossible for just two or three or even four deputies to commandeer the jail and stage fights without other deputies being aware of it.”
Mirkarimi said the four deputies have been transferred to another jail facility pending the outcome of an investigation.
Tagged Clifford Chiba, Deputy Eugene Jones, Evan Staehely, George Gascon, jail inmates forced to fight, Jeff Adachi, Matt Gonzalez, Ross Mirkarimi, San Francisco Public Defender, San Francisco Sheriff's Department, Scott Neu