An attorney representing San Francisco sheriff's deputies against allegations of wrongdoing disputed an investigation that found inmates were forced to fight gladiator-style as deputies gambled on the outcome.
Harry Stern said Public Defender Jeff Adachi had "done a cursory sham investigation by interviewing a few inmates over a scant two days" and said it appeared some inmates had "exaggerated a rather benign situation."
"A deputy may have encouraged one inmate to work out. The deputy may have also allowed two inmates to wrestle in order to settle a dispute about who was stronger," Stern said in an emailed statement. "The 'wrestling' was essentially little more than horseplay."
He also said there was never any betting.
Adachi said in a news conference Thursday that he had launched a probe March 12, conducted by a private investigation firm, after the father of one inmate alerted his son's attorney to the alleged abuse.
Adachi identified the deputy who arranged the matches on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice jail as Scott Neu. Audio recordings of interviews with two inmates who said they were pitted against one another in two contests were posted on the public defender's website.
In the recording, inmate Ricardo Palikiko Garcia can be heard telling Adachi that if he didn't fight, Neu said he would "beat me up, cuff me and tase me all at once."
Garcia said he is 5-foot-9 and weighs 150 pounds, and was ordered to fight Stanley Harris, who he said is 6 feet and weighs more than 300 pounds.
"I'm the smallest guy in the pod and he's the biggest," Garcia said.
Neu was named in two federal civil rights lawsuits in 2006 and 2008, alleging he harassed a female inmate and two male-to-female transgender inmates in the jail, and forced them to perform sex acts on him.
Adachi said he had planned to wait to disclose his findings, which he called "sickening," until the inmates cooperating with the investigation were released from custody. But he moved up his announcement because he said a third fight was being planned.
"I'm scared, bro, because I have an injury from the last two and I didn't want to do it to begin with," said Garcia, who reported bruising and a possible rib fracture. "I just want to do my time and get out of here."
Garcia said Neu was betting on Harris, who lost the first fight. Neu later told Garcia that he "does not like to lose money."
A second deputy was apparently betting on Garcia and told him before the second fight: "Good luck. I'm counting on you today." Two more deputies allegedly watched and chanted as the men fought.
Garcia said Neu told the men "anything goes other than the face," and advised them, "If you end up going to medical, you better say you fell off the bunk. Basically, none of this happened."
In a separate interview, Harris says Neu made him do push-ups, arranged the fights and forced inmates to participate by threatening them.
Like Garcia, Harris reported that Neu told him he would beat him while handcuffed in a holding cell and have him moved to "the hole" in another jail. Both men also said Neu on numerous occasions forced inmates to gamble for their food. If they lost, he would take it.
Two more inmates also reported wrongdoing by Neu, but audio of their interviews was not released.
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who attended Adachi's news conference, said he had reassigned all four deputies and moved two of the inmates. He called the alleged acts "barbaric" and said he would press for state or federal probes.
The San Francisco police chief and district attorney's office said Thursday they had launched investigations.
"The conduct alleged against these Sheriff's Department deputies is deplorable," Dist. Atty. George Gascon said in a statement, and he urged anyone with information to contact his office.
Eugene Cerbone, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Assn., said that although he was not privy to the details of the investigation, "I'm not buying it."
"If I have to take the word of criminals who are committing crimes in the city or a deputy, it's a no-brainer to me," he said.