SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Three San Francisco sheriff’s deputies accused of forcing jail inmates to fight each other have been charged with felony and misdemeanor charges, District Attorney George Gascon announced Tuesday.
Former Deputy Scott Neu and current deputies Eugene Jones and Clifford Chiba have been charged in connection with the alleged jailhouse “fight club” incidents, which occurred last March, Gascon said.
“These are serious crimes that damage the moral authority of law enforcement,” Gascon said. “Subjecting inmates who are in the care and custody of the state to degrading and inhumane treatment makes a mockery of our justice system and undermines any efforts toward rehabilitation.”
Neu, who faces the most serious charges, allegedly forced county jail inmates Ricardo Palakiko-Garcia and Stanley Harris to fight each other on the seventh floor of the county jail at 850 Bryant St. on March 5 and again the next day, according to court documents.
The inmates initially refused to fight but Neu threatened them with physical harm, saying he would handcuff, mace, beat or use a Taser stun gun on them, and also threatened to send them to a different jail with fewer
privileges, prosecutors allege.
One of the inmates, who was significantly smaller than the other, suffered an injury to his rib in the first fight.
Neu also allegedly ordered Harris to train for fights between Oct. 3, 2014, and March 25, making him do push-ups and dips against his will. He also allegedly forced Harris and other inmates to gamble for their food, clothing, bedding and other possessions.
Prosecutors said Chiba was present during the first match and failed to stop or report it. He also allegedly later gave one of the inmates advice about how to handle another fight. Jones allegedly participated in forcing the inmates to fight on the second occasion and also failed to report it.
Neu is charged with four felony counts of assault by an officer, four felony counts of criminal threats, four misdemeanor counts of inhumanity to a prisoner and five misdemeanor counts of cruel and unusual punishment of a prisoner. He faces a potential sentence of up to 10 years and two months in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.
Jones is charged with two felony counts of assault by an officer, two misdemeanor counts of cruel and unusual punishment of a prisoner and one count of willful omission to perform his official duty. Chiba is charged with
two misdemeanor counts of cruel and unusual punishment of a prisoner and one count of willful omission to perform his official duty.
The allegations against the deputies came to light last March when Garcia’s family contacted the public defender’s office for help.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi Tuesday said he was “very pleased” the district attorney was taking the matter seriously and filing charges.
“When a person is in jail, they are most vulnerable to attack,” Adachi said. “They have nowhere to go, they have no one to talk.”
Adachi said he has ongoing concerns about jail operations and would like to see increased accountability and some sort of public review process for complaints. He noted that Neu was the subject of prior allegations of sexual assault, which had resulted in a 2006 lawsuit that was later settled, but had continued to work in the jails.
“We want to be sure we have a system in place that doesn’t let this culture fester,” Adachi said. “The question has to be asked: were there other deputies who knew about this and chose to stay silent?”
The incidents occurred under the watch of former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who was voted out of office in November. Mirkarimi responded by asking the FBI to conduct an investigation.
The charges announced Tuesday were the result of a joint investigation between the district attorney’s office and the FBI, with the help of the sheriff’s department’s internal affairs division.
Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who took office in January, Tuesday said she was glad the investigation had come to a conclusion and called the allegations an “embarrassment.”
“Certainly it is an embarrassment to the vast majority of deputy sheriffs in our department when a small number of people act in a manner that is not only contrary to our department’s mission but also criminal,” Hennessy said.
Hennessy said she is working to improve training, reestablish performance evaluations and reinforce the law enforcement code of expectations with her staff.
She is also working to obtain body-worn cameras for deputies, an initiative that Mirkarimi introduced but for which he was unable to get funding support from the mayor’s office.
“It’s not just about this, it’s about the entire department and working to ensure that everybody understands the expectations,” Hennessy said. “Frankly, it’s up to the leader to set the tone, now it’s up to me to make sure everybody understands what the expectations are and what the vision is.”
Hennessy said deputies charged with felonies are generally placed on administrative leave, while the deputy charged with misdemeanors was working in a non-inmate contact location.
Prosecutors said that arrest warrants have been issued for the three deputies, but as of this morning they had not yet turned themselves in and no court dates have been set for arraignment.