S.F. Public Defender: Sheriff’s Deputies Bet on Forced Battles Between Inmates

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi speaks to reporters Thursday about allegations that deputies in San Francisco County Jail 4 forced inmates to fight each other for entertainment. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi speaks to reporters Thursday about allegations that deputies in San Francisco County Jail 4 forced inmates to fight each other for entertainment. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

Four San Francisco sheriff’s deputies forced city jail inmates to brawl for entertainment while taking bets on the fights, the city’s public defender said today.

“We learned recently that there were a group of deputies led by who I would call the ringleader, Deputy [Scott] Neu, and he was forcing inmates to fight, gladiator-style, for his own sadistic entertainment,” Adachi said.

Adachi said San Francisco County Jail #4 inmate Ricardo Garcia’s father contacted his office on March 12 and related that his son had told him deputies were forcing him to fight. A deputy public defender talked to Garcia, who said he didn’t want to raise the matter and was scared of retribution, according to Adachi. The public defender was then contacted by another inmate, Keith Richardson, and another, Stanley Harris.

Adachi asked private investigator Barry Simon to investigate, and Simon started interviewing inmates in the jail on the seventh floor of San Francisco’s aging Hall of Justice.

“I guess the main thing that struck me the most was their consistency in what they said and how they presented it,” Simon said, “and it was all coming from very disparate angles.”

Simon said he’s been to “prisons, jails, lockups all over the United States, federal penitentiaries, and as well as some other countries, Mexico, Latin America and Asia.” He said he expected to hear complaints from the inmates about the jail.

“I guess the thing that impressed me the most, and I mean impressed in the deepest sense of the word, was the fear in these guys,” Simon said. “They were forced to do this and they did not want to do this, and they were also afraid of being hurt. They were caught because they really did not know what to do. If they spoke up and they did not get the proper backup, what would happen to them? If they did not speak up, what was going to be their fate?”

Simon’s report consists solely of minutes from interviews with five inmates, including Garcia and Stanley Harris, who said they were forced to fight each other twice.

Adachi said they did not want to go public with the investigation yet, but he learned a third fight was being planned in the next few days.

“These were fights in which these deputies actually had fighters that they were training,” Adachi said. “They were forcing them to do pushups and exercise to get in training for these fights.”

The head of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, Eugene Cerbone, said he does not believe the inmates.

“They’re only allegations,” Cerbone said. “I don’t believe in them. I believe in my deputies before I believe people who are committing crimes in the city of San Francisco.”

Cerbone said he’d spoken today to the deputies — Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely — to assure them they would have legal representation through the firm Rains Lucia Stern. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A sheriff’s department spokesman said the four deputies were placed on paid administrative leave.

The public defender played recorded phone conversations for reporters today he said were with Ricardo Garcia and Stanley Harris.

“Basically, I feel scared for my life,” Garcia said in the recorded conversation. “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.”

Adachi said Garcia is about 5-foot-9 and weighs about 150 pounds, and Harris is 6-foot-6 and weighs more than 350 pounds. Harris and Garcia, as well as other inmates Simon interviewed, said Neu would force Harris to do pushups and other exercises to humiliate him and “train” him for fights.

“In some ways, law enforcement in this town is a little incestuous,” Mirkarimi said. “What I want to make sure is we answer the question of a thorough investigation, and my choices are to invite either the attorney general of California, who’s the former DA here, or the U.S. Department of Justice, and I think the DOJ has the right tools.”

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