San Francisco deputies charged in jail 'fight club' case

Prosecutors charged two San Francisco sheriff’s deputies and a former deputy Tuesday with participating in a “fight club” in which jail inmates were forced to pummel each other while the guards watched.

Dist. Atty. George Gascon, who announced the charges, said the deputies committed serious crimes that damaged “the moral authority of law enforcement.”

“Subjecting inmates who are in the care and custody of the state to degrading and inhumane treatment makes a mockery of our justice system,” said Gascon, joined by David J. Johnson, the FBI special agent in charge in San Francisco.

The charges stemmed from gladiator-style fights staged last year on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice jail. They came to light after the father of one of the inmates complained to the San Francisco public defender’s office.

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Former Deputy Scott Neu, who was fired last year, was charged with felony counts of assault and making criminal threats and misdemeanor charges of cruelty to a prisoner and failure to perform an official duty. Neu faces a maximum of 10 years and two months in prison if he’s found guilty.

Deputy Eugene Jones was charged with felony counts of directing the assaults and with misdemeanors of failing to perform an official duty. If convicted, he faces five years behind bars. Jones was put on unpaid administrative leave Tuesday, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.

Deputy Clifford Chiba, who is reported to have given an inmate fight tips, was charged with misdemeanor counts of cruel punishment of a prisoner and failure to perform an official duty. Chiba faces 1 1/2 years behind bars. The spokeswoman said Chiba is working at a post that does not involve contact with the public or inmates.

The charges stemmed from an investigation by the San Francisco Public Corruption Task Force, which was created by Gascon and the FBI.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi revealed the jailhouse fights last year. He said it appeared that deputies had been betting on the inmate fighters. One of the inmates was forced to fight a much larger man and feared for his safety, Adachi said.

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who took office in January, said she hopes to purchase body cameras for deputies in the Hall of Justice jail, which typically houses 300 inmates.

The jail is older and rectangular in shape with cells divided by a hallway. Over time, the stationary cameras in the jail had stopped working, and there was not enough money to replace them, she said. Hennessy said the department will soon do that.

She said she did not expect any more deputies to be charged.

“This is something that is embarrassing for the deputies, of course, because most them are professional, hardworking and humane people who do their job in very difficult circumstances,” she said.

Hennessy defeated former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in November. Since taking over, she said, she has required performance evaluations and more training.

“We have to hold people accountable and put a system in place that does hold people accountable,” she said.

Twitter: @mauradolan

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7:23 p.m.: This story was updated with additional information.

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