The criminal case against a former sheriff’s deputy accused of orchestrating an inmate “fight club” in San Francisco jails is in danger of crumbling because the Sheriff’s Department destroyed a hard drive that may have contained exculpatory evidence by smashing it with a hammer.
Attorneys for former Deputy Scott Neu, who was fired in 2015 after Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced at a press conference that his clients were forced to fight for food or face beatings, filed a motion on Tuesday to dismiss the case.
According to the court filing, the Sheriff’s Department destroyed evidence that would have helped Neu prove the prosecution misused a “compelled statement” he gave as part of an Internal Affairs investigation looking into administrative policy violations.
Compelled statements cannot be used to pursue criminal charges, but Neu’s attorneys believe it may have been inappropriately shared with a parallel criminal investigation taking place at the same time.
The sergeant assigned to the administrative investigation, David Murphy, testified he wasn’t aware compelled statements could not be shared with the criminal investigation team, the motion said.
Defense attorneys sought access to Murphy’s email archives, but Murphy said he had deleted them, which was his “common practice.” The defense team then hired a forensic expert to inspect Murphy’s laptop hard drive — but was told by the Sheriff’s Department that it had destroyed it by smashing it with a hammer.
“The Sheriff’s Department claimed that destruction by hammer-smashing is the normal protocol at the Sheriff’s Department for computers with viruses,” Neu’s attorneys wrote. “However, the Department never produced a policy or procedure to support this assertion.”
Neu’s attorneys wrote the hard drive was destroyed within weeks of when the Sheriff’s Department was informed by the defense that mishandling the compelled statement could lead to a dismissal.
“We are investigating these allegations,” said Max Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office.
“The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has cooperated fully throughout the investigation,” said Nancy Crowley, a department spokesperson. “We are reviewing the motion. We do not believe that any action the department has taken will jeopardize the criminal case.”
Neu’s attorneys were not immediately available for comment.