Public Defender: SF jail guards staged prisoner fights

San Francisco County jail inmates were forced to fight “gladiator-style” to entertain guards who bet on the outcome and even forced the men to train for future fights, according to what The City’s public defender called “sadistic” revelations.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced these findings on Thursday – part of an investigation his office launched this month – to prevent planned upcoming fights from injuring the men who were being coerced into fighting just feet away from The City’s law enforcement leaders in the Hall of Justice.

If true, the allegations, said Adachi, are “outrageously sadistic scenarios that sound like its out of Game of Thrones.”

According to transcripts of interviews with Stanley Harris and another inmate, both men were threatened with beatings and other punishments if they did not fight one another. The fights were reported to have begun March 3. The winners of these fights were promised hamburgers and better treatment as reward, according to the interviews.

The ringleader of these fights, according to the Public Defender’s investigation, was veteran Deputy Scott 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.”

Adachi spoke with Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, hours before making the allegations public, so that the four deputies in question could be transferred to protect the witnesses.

While the department’s investigation must be complete before anything can be determined, “the evidence is damning enough” said Mirkarimi Thursday, adding that he would be negligent if he didn’t take immediate action. “I am extremely disturbed by this.”

Mirkarimi’s office has transferred the four officers to positions with no inmate interaction, he said Thursday. Those deputies, along with Neu, include Clifford Chiba, a deputy Jones, whose first name is unconfirmed, and a deputy Staehly, whose first name was also not given.

Both Mirkarimi and Adachi called for an independent investigation of the matter.

Deputies allegedly picked inmates and “trained” them to fight for them. Deputy Jones took Garcia and deputy Neu took Harris. In Harris’ case, Neu forced him to do hundreds of push ups as part of this training. At one point Neu even tried to make Harris fight him.

“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.”

Garcia, who is a much smaller man than Harris, said he has bruises on his back and possibly fractured ribs, said he has a “hard time breathing still, and I can’t sleep on the right side of my, my, my body.”

Garcia is in County jail on drug charges and gun possession while Harris is in custody on drug charges.

“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.”

Several other inmates who were interviewed also said they too were forced to fight one another.

The revelations also appears to make the allegations appear racially motivated, as most of the deputies involved are white and all the fighters are of color. But union official says at least one of those deputies, Chiba, is not white.

The incidents were first reported in early March when a lawyer at the Public Defender’s office received an email from an inmate’s father, saying his son was being forced to fight. That prompted an investigation by Barry Simon, a private investigator of jail misconduct, who reported his findings to Adachi on March 25.

Simon said the findings of his investigation were telling in that all the witnesses had stories that aligned with one another and added that the deputes directly involved were not the only ones who bared responsibility, including two bailiffs reported to have seen at least one fight: deputies Aquino and Collins.

“You being silent is complicity,” said deputy public defender Matt Gonzalez.

But Eugene Cerbone, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, says his union stands behind its accused member and says it isn’t unusual for inmates to make unfounded allegations.

“I find it very hard to believe what is being alleged is the truth. I don’t’ believe Jeff Adachi either. He has a history of defending crooks no matter what,” said Cerbone. “I can’t wait for the day that these guys are exonerated.”

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