SF to pay former inmate $60K in lawsuit over alleged jail fights

San Francisco has agreed to pay $60,000 to settle a federal lawsuit with a former inmate who alleged that a group of sheriff’s deputies forced inmates into a gladiator-style fight club at County Jail.

The Board of Supervisors will soon vote on the settlement with former inmate Quincy Lewis, who filed the civil rights lawsuit against deputies Scott Neu, Clifford Chiba and Eugene Jones in November 2017.

The lawsuit alleged that Neu, Chiba and Jones forced Lewis and other inmates to fight each other for food at the seventh-floor jail of the Hall of Justice in 2015 and placed bets on who the winner would be.

The District Attorney’s Office filed numerous charges against the deputies including 17 counts against Neu, the alleged ringleader, after Public Defender Jeff Adachi uncovered the scandal in March 2015.

The settlement is the second reached with inmates who sued over the alleged fight club. In August 2016, the Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $90,000 to inmates Ricardo Palakiko-Garcia, Stanley Harris and Keith Dwayne Richardson. Palakiko-Garcia and Harris are named as victims in the criminal case.

According to the latest lawsuit, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department fired Neu in light of the scandal and placed Chiba and Jones in positions with no inmate contact. A spokesperson for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy confirmed that Neu is no longer with the department, while Chiba and Jones are still deputies.

“This happened in 2015 prior to Sheriff Hennessy assuming office,” said SFSD spokesperson Nancy Crowley. “Since her election, she has taken steps to train staff and prevent this from happening again.”

Crowley said that the department has since equipped deputies with body-worn cameras and upgraded stationary cameras in the jail.

“The department provides regular training to recruits and sworn officers on policy and procedures that are consistent with maintaining and operating a safe and secure jail system,” Crowley said.

John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said in a statement that the proposed settlement “represents a reasonable outcome given all of the circumstances, as well as the inherent risks and uncertainty of a trial.”

Andy Legolvan, the attorney who represented Lewis, declined to comment.

Lewis initially represented himself in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“Deputy Neu forced us to do what he say or be punished,” Lewis wrote in the first version of the complaint. “Had us walking on eggshells due to the threats.”

Lewis, who worked in the laundry at the jail and was paid in food, said the deputies started to instigate the fights in March 2015.

“The deputies would take food that I worked for and require me to compete with other inmates for the food by initially forcing us to do push-ups to eventually forcing us to fight against each other,” Lewis said. “They would set up fight rules such as no hitting in the face and no reporting to the nurse on duty.”

Lewis said at one point Neu brought his lunch in a bag into the jail and used it to start a fight between Lewis and a kitchen worker. “He offered his lunch up for grabs between us and we both wanted the lunch so we fought for it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said fear drove him and other inmates to call Adachi after the second fight. He filed the lawsuit after learning about the settlement in the other case.

Lewis later hired attorneys who filed a second version of the complaint June 1. That complaint also names former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and Deputy John Minor, who has since retired from the department.

The lawsuit includes numerous allegations beyond the jail fights. According to the lawsuit, Neu forced Lewis to do pushups or gamble with dice or cards to keep the food he earned by working at the jail.

On one occasion, Minor allegedly watched as Neu took a bag of lunch away from Lewis and forced him to do pushups to keep each item inside.

The lawsuit also alleges that Neu was part of the so-called “850 Mob,” a gang of jail deputies dubbed after the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St.

Neu allegedly had a tattoo that said “850 Mob” on his leg.

Neu, Chiba and Jones are next scheduled to appear in criminal court Sept. 21.

Neu is charged with four counts of felony assault by an officer under the color of authority, four counts of felony criminal threats, four counts of misdemeanor inhumanity to a prisoner and five counts of misdemeanor cruel and unusual punishment of a prisoner.

Jones is facing two counts of felony assault by an officer under the color of authority, two counts of misdemeanor cruel and unusual punishment of a prisoner and misdemeanor willful omission to perform official duty.

Chiba is facing two misdemeanor counts of cruel and unusual punishment of a prisoner and a count of misdemeanor willful omission to perform official duty.

Minor was not criminally charged.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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