Deputies in a San Francisco jail allegedly organized a "fight club" among inmates, forcing men to brawl for their pleasure and threatening punishment if they didn't obey.
Those are the accusations lodged against three men by the San Francisco district attorney's office and a public defender, who held a press conference Tuesday to announce charges and expose the disturbing crimes.
But the deputies' attorneys are crying foul, denying that a "fight club" ever existed and that the alleged ring leader only allowed inmates to fight in order to "blow off steam," the Los Angeles Times reported. Union representatives are complaining that prosecutors have filed charges based on the words of criminals.
If convicted, they could end up in the same San Francisco jail where they organized the brawls.
The alleged "fight club" was exposed when San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi revealed that an inmate had come to him with a story about being forced to brawl with another inmate -- and his friend. A local and federation investigation began.According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the two inmates forced to participate in the "fight club" were Ricardo Palikiko Garcia (since released) and Stanley Harris. They said former Deputy Scott Neu, the accused ring leader, forced them to participate in an "anything goes" fight that other deputies then bet on. If they didn't comply, they'd be beaten or have their food taken away. If they needed medical attention, they were ordered to lie.
There were two staged fights between the men, one on March 5 and the other March 6. The overweight inmate was forced to do 200 push-ups in one hour, by Neu, to "train" for the fight; the much-smaller Garcia ended up badly injured. The next day, Neu allegedly forced the pair to spar again; they agreed out of fear.
"They were friends," Adachi said. "They did not want to fight each other, but were being forced to do this and threatened that if they did not fight and did not exhibit a real fight, there would be real consequences. These two individuals were terrified when they came to us."
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said the investigation discovered that the "fight club" was the end result of months of other abuses. Neu, who is also accused of sexually assaulting prisoners, allegedly forced them to gamble for food, bedding, and other items. When the "fight club" began, he threatened his "gladiators": if they didn't agree to "pummel each other for his entertainment," they'd be handcuffed, beaten, maced, or shocked with a Taser.
"This... speaks to grossly inhumane treatment against human beings that were in these deputies' charge and responsibility. Subjecting inmates who are in our care and custody to degrading and inhumane treatment makes a mockery of our criminal justice system and undermines any efforts toward rehabilitation."
The charges against the three sheriff's deputies is the result of a joint investigation by the San Francisco Public Corruption Task Force and the FBI.Neu, who has since been fired, is facing a decade in prison if convicted on 17 separate counts in connection with the "fight club," including charges of assault, criminal threats, and cruelty to a prisoner. Deputy Eugene Jones is facing five years if convicted of felony counts for directing assaults. Deputy Clifford Chiba didn't force anyone to fight but has been charged for doing nothing to stop it. Jones and Chiba are still employed at the San Francisco jail but no longer interact with inmates.
Neu's attorney, Harry Stern, said the case was proof of Gascón's "unquenchable thirst for self-promotion," but admitted that his client "allowed two inmates to wrestle to settle a minor dispute... There was no 'fight club.' These were incarcerated career criminals whom he allowed to let off steam."
Union leader Eugene Cerbone also disputed the charges, noting that the Sheriff's Department investigated the accusations and turned up nothing.
"[The prosecutors are] disrupting people's lives on the words of criminals. You're disrupting people's lives, people with families, because a drug dealer said he had to do push-ups."
[Image via sakhorn/Shutterstock]