SF jail accountability remains in question after ‘gladiator’ fights charges announced

Few concrete plans by San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy emerged Tuesday in the wake of the charges being filed against three deputies who allegedly staged fights between inmates.

“If these charges are true, it’s certainly embarrassing for the department,” said Hennessy, who added that such deputies are an example of bad apples and not a sign of systemic issues within the department.

District Attorney George Gascon announced the charges Tuesday, and 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.

Neu was fired by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, said Eileen Hirst, chief of staff for newly elected Hennessy. Jones and Chiba, meanwhile, remain in positions with no prisoner contact.

Still, Hennessy had few fresh ideas to ensure such alleged misdeeds don’t recur, other than making people accountable and aware of their duties.

“All deputies are expected to report things that they see,” said Hennessy.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office discovered the alleged misdeeds, said he remains troubled by the lack of oversight, transparency and accountability in San Francisco’s jails.

“Often we don’t learn what happens,” said Adachi about complaints of abuse his office lodges with the department and its culture. “There needs to be a better system in place.”

Unlike San Francisco police following the killing of Mario Woods last December, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has yet to take stock of itself and move to put in place needed reforms, said Adachi. The police department has since initiated use of force reforms and a federal review of their policies has been launched, among other things.

In March 2015, Adachi’s office made public the allegations that deputies Neu, Jones and Chiba, along with a fourth deputy not charged, had staged fights between inmates at the main County Jail at 850 Bryant St.

Former San Francisco Sheriff's Deputy Scott Neu was charged Tuesday along with two other deputies for their part in staging fights between inmates in 2015.
Former San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Neu was charged Tuesday along with two other deputies for their part in staging fights between inmates in 2015.

Following the revelation, an administrative investigation was launched, the FBI was called in and the District Attorney’s Office conducted its own investigation.

Now that those investigations are finished — the internal investigation was completed last June and identified the three charged deputies — it remains unclear what protocols or systems have been put into place to prevent future incidents.

Hennessy, who lauded her predecessors for launching an investigation, calling in the FBI and removing leaders overseeing the deputies in question, said she had made it clear to her staff what is expected of them and what they face if they fail in their duties.

“You just can’t let things lie,” she said in regards to ensuring accountability is part of her department.

Mirkarimi told the San Francisco Examiner that his administration, in addition to initiating the acquisition of body cameras, also revisited use of force policies, and institutionalized prisoner legal services.

“My administration put a number of reforms into motion,” he said, adding that he cannot comment on how Hennessy is running her administration.

For her part, Hennessy has made it a point to bring a personal touch to the job, like walking the jails and keeping tabs on her commanders. Such efforts are common among sheriff’s while in office.

She has also said she will finalize the move by Mirkarimi to equip deputies with body cameras. In that vein, she said their purchase is underway and expects them to arrive soon.

Hennessy said increased de-escalation training, among other things, are also a part of ongoing efforts to avert such incidents in the future.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeinkcorruptionCrimeGeorge GasconJail FightsPolice MisconductRoss MirkarimiSan Francisco DASan Francsico SherrifVicki Hennessy

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