Public Defender Likens S.F. Jail Fights to “Game of Thrones”

Friday, March 27, 2015

It was not exactly Frazier-Ali, but the San Francisco Public Defender’s office says staged fights between inmates at County Jail 4 had the rapt attention of at least a couple of deputies and was seen, but not reported, by a couple more. 

Public Defender Jeff Adachi and chief attorney Matt Gonzalez sent a letter to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi alleging “serious misconduct” by deputies that included allegations of forced gambling, threats of physical violence and other abuse. The three appeared at a press conference Thursday to discuss the allegations.

“I can only describe this as an outrageously sadistic scenario that sounds like it's out of the ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” Adachi said.

According to Adachi and a report from a private investigator engaged by the public defender, Deputy Scott Neu forced 150-pound Ricardo Palikiko Garcia to fight 350-pound Stanly Harris twice while others watched. One other deputy was said to be present during the fights, cheering them on, and two others may have seen one.

Garcia said he won the first fight against the out-of-shape Harris after the two pummeled each other for two or three minutes. Harris, gasping for breath, succumbed to a headlock and tapped out. The next day, Deputy Eugene Jones allegedly demanded they fight again because he missed the first one.

Garcia allegedly protested that he was too beat up from the first fight, but engaged in the rematch after Neu threatened him with a beating and other punishment. Garcia said the fight was stopped when it was feared that two other deputies had spotted the action and might report it. Harris told investigators he thought he had cracked ribs, but was afraid he would be retaliated against if he sought medical attention.

The public defender alleged that Neu forced inmates to gamble with him over their food and possessions and took them even when he lost.

Harris told investigators that Neu would regularly force him to do exercises he was unfit to perform, like pushups, verbally abusing him throughout. The inmate said he was threatened with beatings and loss of his kitchen job, and thought the threats may have been sexually motivated because Neu told him that he was going to “take his cheeks.”

Another inmate, Keith Richardson, who is black, also told investigators that Neu had tried, and failed, to goad him into fighting a white inmate with whom he had a minor disagreement. Richardson said he and other inmates heard the Garcia-Harris fight from their cells.  

The public defender demanded that the deputies involved be reassigned and an independent investigation be conducted. Adachi said he had planned to wait until the inmates were out of jail before filing a complaint, but moved quickly when he heard another fight was scheduled.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a spokesman for the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the deputies’ union, said the inmates were exaggerating and the fight was just “horseplay.”  

The San Francisco District Attorney’s office released a statement echoing the call for an investigation: “Common sense indicates that such conduct does not occur without the knowledge of numerous people. These allegations require an independent and thorough investigation into the practices and supervision at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

S.F. Jail Inmates Forced to Fight, Public Defender Says (by Vivian Ho, San Francisco Chronicle)

Public Defender: SF Jail Guards Staged Prisoner Fights (by Jonah Owen Lamb, San Francisco Examiner)

San Francisco Inmates Allege Deputies Forced Them into Gladiator-Style Jail Fights (Carolyn Tyler, ABC 7)

San Francisco Jail Inmates Forced into “Gladiator-Style” Fights, Public Defender Says (by Ed Mazzo, Huffington Post)

Report of Investigation (by Barry Simon, Simon Associates) (pdf)

Letter to the Sheriff (Jeff Adachi and Matt Gonzalez, San Francisco Public Defenders Office)

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