Inmates allegedly forced by jailer into ‘gladiator-style fights’
The jailer, Deputy Scott Neu, and three of his colleagues are now on paid administrative leave as authorities look intoclaimslaid forth on Thursday by San Francisco's elected public defender, Jeff Adachi.
Interviews conducted with two inmates who say they were forced to fight one another were released on Thursday. In the recordings, the men said they felt threatened by Neu and only participated over fear of what would happen if they refused.
“He threatened to handcuff and beat me up,” one of the inmates, Stanley Harris, said during a recent phone interview. “He said he’d put me in like a holding tank, handcuff me and fuck me up.”
Harris, a six-foot tall African-American man weighing roughly 350 pounds, said Neu promised to reward him if he fought another inmate, Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, and won.
“I got a cheeseburger if you whoop his ass,” Harris said he was told by the deputy. “I’ll take care of you if you fuck him up,” he recalled hearing.
Public Defender : jail deputies in SF are organizing gladiator fights among inmates pic.twitter.com/Fy3oNrKrDe
— Mark Matthews (@MarkMatthewsNBC) March 26, 2015
The two inmates were forced to fight each other in front of Neu and other deputies twice since early March, both men told investigators. Adachi began examining claims of misconduct after being alerted by the father of one of the inmates on March 12. Soon after he hired a private detective to gather evidence, and Adachi decided to go public with the details on Thursday after learning that another fight was forthcoming.
In between fights, according to Harris, Neu subjected him to “training” by forcing him to do hundreds of push-ups to physically prepare. In other instances, according to the inmate, Neu took off his belt and shirt and tried to fight Harris. Another time, he told Adachi that he felt sexually threatened when the deputy made a remark about the prisoner’s “cheeks.”
Garcia, Harris’ challenger, said during an interview with Adachi that deputies, including Neu, had forced him to fight and had placed bets on the brawl. He claims he was told he would be taken to a secluded spot to be beaten and restrained if he refused.
As far as the fights, Garcia said that Neu told him “anything goes.”
“Just don’t punch in the face so – so no one can basically see the marks. But anything goes other than the face,” he said.
According to Adachi, a private investigation led him to conclude that Neu made the men partake in at least two jailhouse brawls earlier this month at the county jail on 850 Bryant Street. Adachi said he hired a private investigator to interview potential witnesses after learning that an inmate at the facility said he was injured, possibly with a broken rib, as a result of fighting with another man. The subsequent probe, Adachi said, suggested Neu had been orchestrating brawls among prisoners and betting on the outcome.
“These revelations are sickening,” Adachi said. “Deputy Neu forced these young men to participate in gladiator-style fights for his own sadistic entertainment.”
To other inmates, Garcia said, Neu confiscated belongings and then made them gamble to get them back.
“[I] just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I just see the look on his face and, you know, it looks like it brings him joy by doing this, while we’re suffering by what he’s doing,” Garcia told investigators. “I don’t know if it’s a gamble addiction or if he just likes to see inmates go through, you know, you know, a whole lot of pain.”
Inmate says if he lost fight deputies would take his food. pic.twitter.com/Yb5Tl76jdz
— Mark Matthews (@MarkMatthewsNBC) March 26, 2015
“This is sadistic behavior,” Adachi said of the allegations. “This is something that goes beyond any sense of common decency.”
Neu was previously accused of sexually harassing and sexually assaulting inmates, yet remained employed by the city even after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to settle those claims out of court in 2009.
“It was sick, sick conduct,” Adante Pointer, an attorney who represented a female inmate in that case, recalled this week. “I am surprised he was even still in the position to be with inmates unsupervised.”
According to Pointer, Neu was accused of forcing his client and two transgender inmates to perform sexual acts on him. The city settled to the tune of $97,500, according to Board of Supervisors records, and Neu was reassigned to inmate transport, Pointer said.
Mark Nicco, an assistant legal counsel for the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department, told Reuters that Deputies Evan Staehely, Eugene Jones and Clifford Iba are on administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation, as is Neu. In a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, however, the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association said that the allegations were “exaggerated” and called the fighting “little more than horseplay.”
“[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,” Harry Stern, an attorney for the deputy’s union, told the newspaper.
Not all law enforcement officials share that opinion, though. Ross Mirkarimi, the county sheriff, called the alleged acts “barbaric” and said he would ask for the state and federal government to open their own probes. On Thursday, the San Francisco police chief and district attorney’s office both said that they had launched their own investigations.