San Francisco Deputies Charged With Staging Jailhouse ‘Fight Club'

All three deputies were charged with "cruel and unusual" punishment of an inmate.

Three current and former San Francisco sheriff's deputies are accused of forcing jail inmates to fight each other in what authorities described as a "jailhouse fight club."

District Attorney George Gascón and FBI Special Agent in Charge David Johnson announced the charges Tuesday against deputy sheriffs Eugene Jones and Clifford Chiba and former Deputy Sheriff Scott Neu.

The three face felony and misdemeanor charges including "cruel and unusual punishment."

"These are serious crimes that damage the moral authority of law enforcment," Gascón said.

According to court documents, Neu forced county jail inmates Ricardo Palakiko-Garcia and Stanley Harris to fight each other March 5 on the seventh floor of the county jail at 850 Bryant Street.

Neu allegedly told Garcia and Harris that if they did not fight, he would handcuff them, use Mace or a Taser on them, beat them and send them to a different jail with fewer privileges, documents show. 

The two inmates fought each other because they felt they had no choice, according to Gascón.

Chiba was allegedly present and failed to stop the fight, neglecting to protect Garcia and Harris from harm, records indicate. Chiba also gave advice to one of the inmates later about how to proceed in a subsequent round, according to the documents.
The next day, Neu and Jones forced the inmates to fight a second time, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also said that between Oct. 3, 2014 and March 25, 2015, Neu ordered Harris to perform push-ups and dips and gamble in exchange for food and clothing. 

Neu is charged with 17 counts, including issuing criminal threats against inmates, inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and "inhumanity" against the inmates in his care. If convicted of all counts, Neu could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Jones is charged with similar allegations, including "willfully failing to perform an official duty." He could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Chiba, the only one not charged with a felony, faces a misdemeanor charge of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. He could face a year and six months in county jail.

Harry Stern, an attorney for the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff's Association, the deputies' union, has called the allegations "exaggerated'' and the fighting "little more than horseplay."

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the the pending charges Monday, citing sources familiar with the investigation.

The deputies’ conduct had been under investigation by both local and federal authorities since the allegations emerged in March 2015, when San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi described "gladiator style" fights under former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

Mirkarimi was later voted out of office.

It's the second recent high-profile case involving jail guards charged with crimes against inmates.

Three Santa Clara County jail guards are currently in the midst of a preliminary hearing after they were accused of beating inmate Michael Tyree to death in August. The guards have pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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