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Sheriff’s deputies charged in connection with jail inmate fights

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Former sheriff's deputy Scott Neu, pictured at right in a screenshot of a video inside County Jail, during a cell extraction in 2015. He has since been fired by the department for his alleged involvement in jail house fights. (Courtesy photo)
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Two current sheriff’s deputies and a former deputy are facing charges for allegedly pitting San Francisco County Jail inmates against one another in what were called “sadistic” fights last year, authorities announced Tuesday.

District Attorney George Gascon called the allegations “serious crimes that damage the moral authority of law enforcement.”

Former sheriff’s deputy Scott Neu was charged with 17 felony and misdemeanor charges in connection with the alleged fights, while current sheriff’s deputies Eugene Jones and Clifford Chiba face five felony and misdemeanor charges, and three misdemeanor counts, respectively. The charges range from assault by an officer under color of authority to cruel and unusual punishment of prisoner.

Since the initial revelations emerged, Neu has been fired by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, said Eileen Hirst, chief of staff for newly elected Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.

Jones and Chiba, meanwhile, remain in positions with no prisoner contact.

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“We are pleased that the investigation is finally over,” Hirst said. “And the matter now is in the hands of the court.”

The nearly year-long investigation was sparked after San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced his office had learned a group of deputies at County Jail at 850 Bryant St. had been staging the fights between inmates.

A lawyer at the Public Defender’s Office received an email from an inmate’s father, who said his son was being forced to fight, which prompted the investigation.

That investigation led the FBI to look into the fight allegations, as well as the escape of a high-risk inmate.

Former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who oversaw the department when the allegations surfaced, said he went to the FBI to request an investigation in what he called an “unprecedented move” despite opposition from deputy unions.

District Attorney George Gascon announces charges for two sheriff’s deputies and a former deputy for allegedly forcing city jail inmates to fight each at San Francisco County Jail  on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Emma Chiang/Special to SF Examiner)

District Attorney George Gascon announces charges for two sheriff’s deputies and a former deputy for allegedly forcing city jail inmates to fight each at San Francisco County Jail on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Emma Chiang/Special to SF Examiner)

“Further, I put into motion a series of reforms, such as body cameras for inside the jails (a first in the state) that Mayor [Ed] Lee denied,” Mirkarimi said. “It’s good to see the D.A. was able to follow through [on charges].”

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who was elected to the post in November, acknowledged the severity of the charges.

“It’s certainly embarrassing for the department,” Hennessy said, adding that body cameras are on order for the jail.

According to inmate Stanley Harris and another inmate, both men were threatened with beatings and other punishments if they did not fight one another. The winners of the fights were promised hamburgers and better treatment as reward.

The ringleader of these fights was allegedly Neu, who was accused in a 2006 civil rights lawsuit of sexually tormenting several inmates at County Jail.

“I told him I didn’t want to fight,” County Jail inmate Ricardo Palikiko Garcia told Adachi of deputy Neu in a jailhouse phone interview. “Then he told me what would happen if I didn’t fight — which was beating me up, cuffing me and macing me.

Deputies allegedly picked inmates and “trained” them to fight for them.

“He make us fight,” said Harris about Neu in an interview with Adachi from a jail phone. “We had like two fights already… He would make us go to like a— like a “cut” to where nobody can see, and make us just wrestle and fight each other to his own entertainment.

“I feel scared,” said Garcia. “I don’t know when they’re gonna come and, you know, try to basically attack or anything … I’m kind of just walking on eggshells.”

The allegations appear racially motivated, as most of the deputies involved are white and all the fighters are of color.

Another case of alleged misconduct in San Francisco involves several Alameda County sheriff’s deputies who were caught on video tape purportedly beating a man in a San Francisco alley in late 2015. Those deputies have not been charged with a crime.

Separately, an investigation — launched last year — involving an escaped federal inmate remains ongoing.

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