Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerSheriff Ross Mirkarimi

FBI to investigate allegations of deputies staging inmate fights at SF County Jail

The FBI is launching an independent investigation into allegations that San Francisco sheriff’s deputies staged fights between inmates inside County Jail, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced Friday morning.

“I am pleased the feds have granted my request. They can lead an impartial investigation without conflict of interests,” Mirkarimi said in a statement.

In most cases, the FBI determines when to conduct its own investigations. But after the allegations against his deputies were made public, Mirkarimi expressly asked for the feds to become involved.

“Their participation underscores my determination to not allow any person or clique to deter or derail our reforms toward greater transparency and accountability in and outside the jails,” he said. “When government or law enforcement falters, the public deserves straight answers, not the insider fluff or machine spin that placates change.”

Public Defender Jeff Adachi initially made the case public. On March 26, he revealed that his office had found evidence that four deputies in The City’s main jail at 850 Bryant St. had been staging fights between inmates and betting on the results, among other allegations. Sheriff's deputies operate County Jail facilities.

That day, Mirkarimi said he would ask federal authorities to conduct an independent investigation.

On March 31, Sheriff’s Department officials met with the head of the FBI’s San Francisco office, Special Agent in Charge David Johnson. Then the agency on April 3 agreed to do an investigation.

The department's liaison with the FBI will be Undersheriff Federico Rocha.

Meanwhile, the internal affairs unit of the Sheriff’s Department expects to complete its administrative investigation within the next few weeks.

The alleged ringleader of the jail fights was veteran Deputy Scott Neu, who in 2006 was accused in a civil rights lawsuit of sexually tormenting several inmates.

Deputies allegedly picked inmates and “trained” them to fight. In the case of inmate Stanley Harris, Neu reportedly forced him to do hundreds of pushups as part of this training.

“I told him [Neu] I didn’t want to fight,” inmate Ricardo Palikiko Garcia told Adachi 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.”

Along with Neu, the deputies in question include Clifford Chiba, Eugene Jones and a deputy Staehly, whose first name has not been released.

“He make us fight,” Harris said 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.”

Garcia, who is much smaller than Harris, said the fights left him with bruises on his back and possibly fractured ribs. When the allegations surfaced, he told Adachi he has a “hard time breathing still, and I can’t sleep on the right side of my, my, my body.”

Also on Friday, Mirkarimi announced that the deputy responsible for the recent escape of an inmate has been fired.

And in related news, the Sheriff’s Department said the District Attorney’s Office informed it that there was not enough evidence at this time to press criminal charges against a union official who allegedly pulled a gun on a man in a dispute on a city street near the Hall of Justice.

The Sheriff’s Department has not been alone when it comes to recent scandals involving San Francisco’s law enforcement community.

Police have been dealing with fallout from two recent high-profile revelations. One involves the competency of a crime lab technician, while the other is centered around bigoted text messages exchanged between several officers more than two years ago.

District Attorney George Gascon recently launched his own task force to investigate the general wrongdoings of local law enforcement.

Police Chief Greg Suhr, who criticized Gascon’s task force as an unnecessary overreach, sent a recommendation to the Police Commission on Wednesday night that seven of his officers involved in the text message scandal be fired or severely punished.

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