Deputy in jail fight club case faced prior complaint about unnecessary force

Sheriff Michael Hennessey declined to discipline Scott Neu in 2006 incident that broke inmate’s ribs

Nearly a decade before being accused of staging gladiator-style fights at County Jail, a former San Francisco sheriff’s deputy allegedly fractured an inmate’s ribs while using unnecessary force.

An undersheriff recommended that then-Deputy Scott Neu face discipline for committing numerous policies violations during the alleged beating in 2006, according to previously confidential disciplinary records released Tuesday.

Then-Sheriff Michael Hennessey considered suspending Neu but decided not to punish him after Neu acknowledged that he “could have handled this incident differently,” Hennessey said in an August 2008 letter.

“Your willingness to frankly discuss the matter assisted me in resolving the charges,” Hennessey wrote in the letter to Neu.

The Sheriff’s Department also forwarded the case to prosecutors for a charging decision, but then District Attorney Kamala Harris declined to file criminal charges against Neu in January 2008.

“We do not believe we would be able to sustain our burden of proof in this case,” an assistant district attorney wrote to the Sheriffs Department.

Neu would later become one of several deputies to face criminal charges for allegedly forcing inmates to fight over food in 2016.

He was fired in 2015 after the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi exposed the scandal, which brought scrutiny to the Sheriff’s Department and resulted in a number of civil court cases and settlements.

But the District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Neu and his co-defendants in February after defense attorneys showed that the Sheriff’s Department botched the investigation.

The department allegedly mixed internal and criminal investigations into the alleged jail fights, improperly using a statement Neu gave to internal investigators to guide the criminal probe.

Harry Stern, an attorney who represented Neu in the criminal case, said in an email he was not involved in the 2006 matter.

“However, the fact that the sheriff exonerated him proves that Deputy Neu acted properly,” Stern said. “A report from internal affairs is just a set of charges.”

The 2006 investigation started after an inmate filed a complaint against Neu for allegedly kneeing and punching him at his cell at County Jail No. 1.

The inmate, who a lieutenant once described as a “very problematic disruptive prisoner” known for demonstrating psychological and behavioral problems, was found to have suffered two fractured ribs.

An undersheriff recommended that Neu be disciplined for 11 alleged violations of department policy including unnecessary force, truthfulness and unethical conduct in June 2008.

A month later, an attorney for the department notified Neu that Hennessey intended to impose a suspension of up to 20 days without pay against him for some of the alleged violations, including truthfulness.

“In the investigation in this matter you intentionally failed to disclose significant facts,” then-Assistant Legal Counsel Freya Horne wrote.

But Hennessey decided after meeting with Neu the following month that he did not violate any department policies and would not be punished.

The Sheriffs Department released the records to media outlets including the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday under a new state law that makes previously confidential disciplinary records public.

Beginning Jan. 1, California agencies have been required to release records in cases where law enforcement used serious force or has been found to have been dishonest or committed an sexual act with the public.

“The sheriff is committed to complying with the law and being transparent and this is part of it,” said Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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