Two former and current San Francisco sheriff's deputies charged with organizing fights among inmates at the county jail pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon.
Former Deputy Scott Neu is charged with assault under the color of authority, issuing criminal threats, inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and inhumanity against inmates in his care. Current Deputy Eugene Jones is charged with assault under the color of authority, inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and willfully failing to perform an official duty. Another deputy, Clifford Chiba, who is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday, is charged with inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and willfully failing to perform an official duty.
Defense attorneys aren’t saying the fights didn’t happen, but they contend there was nothing criminal going on.
The San Francisco District Attorney's Office last week announced the felony and misdemeanor charges against the trio in connection with the alleged jailhouse "fight club" incidents, which occurred in March 2015 in the county jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St.
According to the district attorney, Neu told an inmate working in the jail’s kitchen that he would have to fight another much larger kitchen inmate or Neu would cuff him and use a Taser stun gun on him. An inmate weighing 350 pounds said he was offered a cheeseburger if he won.
After the arraignment, Neu's defense attorney Harry Stern rejected the idea that his client trained inmates to fight and said the district attorney's office's use of the word "fight club" was an attempt to sensationalize the case.
"There were a couple of fights, scraps, wrestling matches in the jail," Stern said. "They started out, it’s my understanding, over a disagreement over who was in better shape. It’s nothing more than that.
Inmates say Jones and Neu would bet on the fights. But Jones’s attorney Bill Rapaport says his client saw a fight but broke it up, "telling the people who were on the floor wrestling to get back in the kitchen where they belong."
Stern says San Francisco district attorney George Gascon is moving the case forward for political purposes.
"It’s really just an attempt to draw attention to himself," Stern said. "I think his agenda is to be mayor or attorney general or something else."
Max Szabo, spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, responded, saying "the charges are serious…Mr. Stern is trying to downplay them. Clearly, he’s the one that’s flirting with distraction."
Chiba is due to be arraigned Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.
Both Neu and Jones are next scheduled to appear in court on March 28.
Bay City News contributed to this report.