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Alleged destruction of evidence threatens criminal case against SF deputies

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Former San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Neu, right, listens in with his lawyer, Harry Stern, to Judge Ross Moody during Neu’s court appearance at the Hall of Justice, March 7, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. (AP Pool/Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle)

A sheriff’s deputy and a former deputy accused of staging an inmate fight club in San Francisco jail could have their charges dismissed by the end of the year over what defense attorneys described as “credible allegations of destruction of evidence.”

Attorneys for Deputy Sheriff Eugene Jones and former Deputy Scott Neu, who was fired from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in the wake of the scandal, are expected to file a motion seeking to dismiss the charges ahead of a Dec. 14 hearing.

The District Attorney’s Office filed felony and misdemeanor charges against Jones and Neu in March 2015 for allegedly forcing inmates to fight for food like gladiators and gamble on the winners. A third deputy was also charged with two misdemeanors.

Defense attorneys Harry Stern and Matthew Pavone revealed their plans to file the motion to dismiss in court filings last month in the unrelated civil case of Scanvinski Hymes, an inmate who sued Jones and Neu for allegedly beating him at County Jail.

Stern and Pavone did not detail the alleged destruction of evidence in the filings, and Stern declined to comment further when reached by the San Francisco Examiner.

But the City Attorney’s Office, which is defending Jones and Neu in the civil case, appeared to lend credence to the allegations in court filings.

The office filed the declarations in which Stern and Pavone disclosed the allegations, and then used the statements to argue for a delay of the Hymes civil trial, which is scheduled to begin in early December.

“There is a significant chance that Jones’ and Neu’s criminal charges will be dismissed before the end of the year,” Deputy City Attorney Briggs Matheson wrote in a motion to continue the Hymes trial Oct. 26.

When asked to respond, District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Max Szabo said, “I’m not going to comment on a deputy city attorney’s word choice or claims that are as aspirational as they are sensational.”

City Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Cote said “Our court filings speak for themselves.”

While Stern and Pavone have not specified who allegedly interfered with the investigation, Glenn Katon, an attorney representing Hymes, said Deputy City Attorney Renee Rosenblit told him the defense attorneys planned to challenge the charges on the basis that the Sheriff’s Department destroyed evidence.

“Given the history here, I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t done intentionally,” Katon said. “Not only would it protect Neu and Jones, but in a way it would kind of protect the Sheriff’s Department. If these guys get convicted of the level of abuse they’re accused of, that could be national news.”

Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, declined to comment because the motion to dismiss has not been filed.

Neu had a history of excessive force allegations before the jail fights scandal came to light and the Sheriff’s Department fired him.

Hymes sued Jones, Neu and other deputies in July 2016 alleging that they placed him in handcuffs and punched and kicked him in the face while trying to remove him from a cell at the 850 Bryant St. jail.

A judge denied a motion Tuesday from the City Attorney’s Office to continue Hymes’ trial from Dec. 3.

In the criminal case, Neu is facing 17 counts including four counts of felony assault under the color of authority and four counts of felony criminal threats.

Jones is facing five charges including felony assault under the color of authority.

The third defendant in the criminal case, Deputy Sheriff Clifford Chiba, is facing three misdemeanor charges.

The jail fight scandal has resulted in a number of civil lawsuits and two settlements, most recently for $60,000 in September with former inmate Quincy Lewis.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

This story has been updated to include additional information.

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