SF Sheriff Deputies Forced Prison Inmates To Fight

by Kirsten O'Regan

If you thought Orange is the New Black made prison look unpleasant, try this on for size: San Francisco prison guards forced inmates into “gladiator-style” fights, placing bets on the outcomes, according to the city’s public defender. Prisoners who disobeyed were threatened, Reuters reports. Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender, published a report Thursday that called the practice “sadistic entertainment.” Representatives of the prison officials involved responded to the allegations by claiming the fights were “little more than horseplay.”

The report outlined a contest between two prisoners who were bribed with the promise of hamburgers if they won, or physical beatings if they refused. In that instance, both fighters were hurt, but were intimidated out of getting medical assistance. “He told me anything goes. Just don’t punch the face so no one can basically see the marks. But anything goes, other than the face,” one inmate is quoted as saying.

Adachi’s report claims that San Francisco sheriff’s deputy Scott Neu instigated two bouts of combat. This is not the first time Neu has been allegedly involved in shady business. In 2006, he was at the center of a sexual abuse scandal, when two inmates claimed Neu had forced them to perform sex acts on him. The case was settled out of court in 2009.

“Deputy Neu forced these young men to participate in gladiator-style fights for his own sadistic entertainment,” Adachi asserted in a statement. Neu was the ringleader in a group of four deputies at the San Francisco hall of justice who were allegedly involved in the betting ring. Adachi describes the bouts as “outrageously sadistic scenarios, that sound like its out of Game of Thrones,” according to the International Business Times. One of the fights orchestrated by Neu arranged for the smallest inmate to fight the largest, in a David and Goliath-esque contest.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, inmate interview transcripts reveal the threats of corporal punishment. The fight participants were also warned that they would be put in more dangerous quarters if they refused to fight. Better treatment and burgers were offered as the winner’s reward. Neu also apparently took great delight in humiliating his fighters, and referring to himself as their paternalistic “trainer.” He also is alleged to have encouraged inmates to gamble for food and other items.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office swiftly responded to the report, condemning the deputies’ actions and calling for a thorough investigation. They said:

The conduct alleged against these Sheriff’s Department deputies is deplorable… Common sense indicates that such conduct does not occur without the knowledge of numerous people. These allegations require an independent and thorough investigation into the practices and supervision at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

By contrast, the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association leapt to Neu’s defense, calling the reports “exaggerated.” Harry Stern, attorney for the deputy’s union, told the San Francisco Chronicle:

[Adachi] has done a cursory sham investigation by interviewing a few inmates over a scant two days rather than having the decency to request a serious impartial investigation.

According to SFBay, authorities were alerted to the irregular behavior after the father of inmate Rico Palikiko Garcia (who had been coerced into fighting), emailed public defenders about his son’s situation. Adachi claimed he came forward with the allegations Thursday in order to prevent another planned fight.

In response to the report, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi moved four of the inmates to a different facility. The four implicated deputies — identified as Neu, Evan Staehely, Eugene Jones, and Clifford Iba — are on paid administrative leave. An internal investigation will be held, the sheriff’s department’s legal counsel Mark Nicco said.

Images: Getty Images (3)