FBI probes SF jail ‘gladiator’ fights

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched an investigation into allegations that deputies forced county jail inmates to fight gladiator-style and bet on the outcomes.

The FBI investigation follows those already being conducted by the San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department. San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice and invited the FBI to investigate as soon as he learned of the allegations from San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Adachi announced on March 26 that inmates housed in San Francisco County Jail No. 4, on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, were alleging that four deputies forced at least two inmates to fight each other. FBI special agent Greg Wuthrich said today that the bureau has formally launched an investigation into the allegations and all alleged civil rights violations in the sheriff’s department.

Wuthrich said that because there are so many local entities investigating the allegations, it would be up to federal case agents to wade through the “murky waters” and gather information from various local entities. He said the FBI is taking the allegations of civil rights violations very seriously and that the bureau “has a much heavier hand” than local entities that would lead to a “much heavier penalty” if the allegations are found to be true.

Mirkarimi said he is glad that an outside entity, such as the FBI, will be investigating the allegations. Mirakrimi said the sheriff’s department’s internal affairs unit is also conducting an investigation into the alleged misconduct and has briefed him on its findings. However, until its investigation is complete, Mirkarimi said he is unable to discuss its findings.

Mirkarimi said he anticipates the internal administrative investigation to be complete in the next two weeks. According to Mirkarimi, civilian staff at the department have interviewed persons involved in the allegations and he has been briefed on the contents of those interviews.

Mirkarimi said in order to maintain his impartiality, he has not spoken with the four San Francisco deputies, identified by the alleged victims as Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba andEvan Staehely. Once the internal investigation is complete, Mirkarimi said it would be up to him to decide whether those deputies are terminated:

“I believe the public has an absolute right to know what occurred, if anything, and what actions are being taken or to correct any wrongdoing.

Mirkarimi said when he heard about the allegations from Adachi on March 26, all four deputies were reassigned to positions without inmate contact and by the afternoon that same day, those deputies had been placed on paid administrative leave.

Mirkarimi said the inmates who came forward and those who said they witnessed the misconduct were moved to the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno immediately after Adachi alerted him to the allegations. Mirkarimi said today that since the allegations came to light, one of the alleged victims has since been released from jail, as scheduled.

According to Adachi, his office was first alerted to the alleged deputy-orchestrated inmate fights by the father of an inmate via email on March 12. Adachi said that when he learned another fight was apparently being scheduled he reached out to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office immediately to ensure the safety of the inmates.

Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, whose father had emailed with concerns about his son’s well being while housed in San Francisco County Jail No. 4, was interviewed by Adachi and other inmates who were interviewed separately corroborated the incidents. Garcia, who was assigned to kitchen duty in the jail, told Adachi that he had been forced to fight inmate Stanley Harris twice and that the deputies were planning another fight.

On March 26, in a letter addressed to San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, Adachi requested the removal of those named deputies from any position where they have contact with inmates and provided Mirkarimi with a copy of the pro bono investigation launched by private investigator Barry Simon.

According to Mark Nicco, assistant legal counsel to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, two bailiffs, Deputy Francisco Aquino and Deputy Crystal Collins, who were accused by inmates of looking the other way when the fights were going on, had not been placed on administrative leave as of late March.

Adachi said in a statement released today that he expects any deputies who knew about the misconduct, even if they did not participate, to be held accountable. Adachi has said that he demands an independent agency conduct an investigation into the matter, stating that he does not think the sheriff’s department’s investigators are capable of conducting a fair investigation:

“Eliminating this sort of brutal and sadistic conduct starts by leading an investigation that isn’t tainted by conflict of interest or misplaced loyalty.”

Adachi has pointed to previous misconduct by Neu dating back to 2006 that should have resulted in his termination, but did not:

“Moreover, in 2006 and 2007, no action was taken against Deputy Neu, who was accused of sexually assaulting a male and female inmate, despite an internal investigation into the matter.”

Neu was accused in a 2006 civil rights lawsuit of sexually tormenting several inmates, yet remained employed at the jail. Adachi said that case was dismissed and a settlement of $639,000 was reached.

Garcia, who is in his 20s and weighs about 150 pounds, said as a result of the fights he has bruises on his back and elbow and believes he may have fractured a rib because he has trouble breathing and can’t sleep on that side of his body. Garcia said he believes the bailiffs saw the fight but didn’t do anything about it.

Garcia told Adachi that Neu and Jones, who both are Caucasian, were trying to stir up problems for him with the African American inmates with whom he shared a pod. Garcia said in an interview he felt he was being bullied as a result of his race, since he was the only inmate who was not African-American in his pod:

“I feel scared for my life.”

Garcia explained that he just wanted to do his time and get out of there. Harris, an African American man who is also in his 20s and stands about 6 feet tall and weighs over 300 pounds, was interviewed by Adachi separately and confirmed that he was forced to fight Garcia on two separate occasions. He said that when the men fought, the deputies would cheer them on.

According to Harris, Neu showed him two tattoos he had, both with the writing “850 Mob” that was located on his right arm and lower leg. Mirkarimi said he had not heard of this term before, but presumed that the 850 referred to the address of the Hall of Justice, which is 850 Bryant St.

Mirkarimi said today that his department is investigating the possibility that a group of deputies at the jail might be known as the “850 Mob,” but said that so far evidence gathered in the investigation doesn’t fully support those allegations. Mirkarimi said today that he has also initiated the termination of a deputy who ignored protocol that led to the escape of an inmate from the jail at the Hall of Justice in March. He said that deputy may also face criminal charges.