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Public Defender: San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputies Forced Inmates to Fight Each Other, and Gambled on Results

Public defender Jeff Adachi details wild allegations of a jailhouse fight club. 

Not pictured: The San Francisco sherriff's deputies who allegedly held an inmate fight club.

 

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi today is presenting the explosive allegations of three county jail inmates who claim to have been induced into fighting one another by sheriff’s deputies—who then wagered on the outcomes of the bouts.

The revelations were presented today at a hastily assembled press conference, which, per the Public Defender’s office, was called due to the inmates’ claim that another gladiatorial contest was imminent. The inmates were apparently transferred this morning out from under the supervision of the guards they claim forced them into combat. The last such alleged jail boxing match occurred “quite recently” according to the Public Defender’s office. At today’s 12:15 announcement, Adachi, right-hand man Matt Gonzalez, and private investigator Barry Simon planned to detail these allegations, playing audiotape of the inmates’ claims, and calling for an independent investigation of the purported jail fight club.

This is developing into a strange and terrible week for the Sheriff’s Department. On Monday, inmate Alexander Santiago-Gonzalez, clad only in his underwear, outraced an unarmed deputy and escaped county lockup. The prisoner, who is still at large and may have even slipped out of the city, was taking out the trash, a duty usually bestowed upon low-risk inmates. That was odd: Santiago-Gonzalez was facing serious charges of trafficking meth and heroin while amassing a small arsenal of weapons.

Now the Sheriff's department has another potentially disastrous scandal to reckon with.

Update, 3:00 p.m. Public Defender Jeff Adachi today accused veteran Sheriff's Deputy Scott Neu of being the “ringleader” of “gladiator-style” combat in County Jail No. 4 on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, in which winning boxers were treated to cheeseburgers and reticent fighters were threatened with pepper spray, Tasings, beatings, or worse.

Lengthy phone conversations from earlier this week between Adachi and inmates Ricardo Palikiko Garcia and Stanley Harris–who were allegedly forced to fight one another—were played for the gathered media. During the 17- and 7-minute interviews, both Garcia and Harris claim they were cajoled into fighting by Neu and Deputies Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba, and a Deputy Staehly (there are two deputies by that name and it is not yet known which is the Staehly in question).

Garcia, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 150 pounds, bested the 6-foot, 350-pound Harris in the first fight, which took place in the first week of March. Afterward, Garcia said, Neu “told everyone that there will be a Round 2 and he does not like to lose money.” Harris, who is morbidly obese, claims he was forced to “train” by doing hundreds of push-ups.

That second fight came days later, with the winner being offered a burger; “If you don't do it,” Garcia says Neu told him, “then, basically, I'm gonna fuck you up … and handcuff you and mace you...”

The inmates were additionally threatened with being stripped of their privileged status as “trustees” working in the kitchen, and tossed in with rougher inmates on the jail's “mainline” or exiled to the San Bruno facility.

That kitchen fight purportedly ended in a stalemate after other deputies stumbled across the proceedings. A third fight was in the works which, Adachi said, prompted the hasty nature of today's press conference. “I don't know why [Neu] does it,” Garcia told Adachi during the jailhouse phone call. “I just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I see the look on his face and, you know, it looks like it brings him joy.”

The city in 2009 settled a lawsuit brought by an African American female prisoner who accused Neu of coercing her into performing oral sex on him; Adachi says a male inmate also accused Neu of sexual aggression.

That the alleged combatants are minorities and all four deputies are white, the public defender claims, is “not a coincidence.” Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez added that it was inconceivable that a clandestine fight ring could be held at the jail without widespread knowledge of many deputies.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who crashed today's press conference uninvited, said he has reached out to the Federal Department of Justice to assist in a pending investigation. He claimed all four deputies were either not on duty today or had been moved to assignments that did not put them in contact with inmates. Mirkarimi thanked the public defender's office for informing him, at 9:35 this morning, of these allegations, and hoped the Feds could “identify … generational practices I am committed to helping eradicate.”

The bizarre chain of events that led to today's revelations was triggered on March 12 when Garcia's father e-mailed deputy public defender Scott Grant. Garcia and Harris have been moved to San Bruno, Mirkarimi says. This irked Adachi, who noted that banishment to this facility was one of the purported threats used to goad them into fighting in the first place. He said he may ask for their release as “I don't see how the sheriff can guarantee their safety.”

 

Further details on today’s allegations will be provided as soon as possible.

 

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