It’s been a bad time for law enforcement, as scandals involving abuse of authority (oftentimes with lethal results) have been a mainstay of news coverage since last summer, after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY; and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio at the hands of police officers. The three killings, which seemed to point to serious structural race issues not only in the police but in society at large, sparked large-scale protests about police brutality and racial equity. In addition to that the stop and frisk controversies in New York and the recent attention paid to subjects like the militarization of police forces around the country and civil forfeiture have given ordinary citizen cause to be suspicious of the motives and methods of law enforcement personnel.
Yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle published a remarkable story that threatens to add to the list of at best questionable and almost certainly felonious practices among law enforcement personnel—San Francisco deputy sheriffs purportedly forcing inmates to “fight each other, gladiator-style, for the entertainment of the deputies.”
Since the beginning of March, at least four deputies at County Jail No. 4 at 850 Bryant St. threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they did not fight each other, gladiator-style, for the entertainment of the deputies, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.
Adachi said the ringleader in these fights was Deputy Scott Neu, who was accused in 2006 of forcing inmates to perform sexual acts on him.
“I don’t know why he does it, but I just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I just see the look on his face,” said Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, one of the inmates who said he was forced to fight. “It looks like it brings him joy by doing this, while we’re suffering by what he’s doing.”
Neu told Garcia and Harris that if they required medical attention, they were to lie and say they fell off a bunk, Garcia said.
“And he told me anything goes,” he said. “Just don’t punch the face, so no one can basically see the marks. But anything goes, other than the face.”
Garcia said that at 5 feet 9 and 150 pounds, he was the smallest man in the pod while Harris, at 6 feet and 350 pounds, was the biggest.
During the first fight, which took place in a part of a hallway that was blocked from view, Neu appeared to have been betting on Harris, Garcia said, who tapped out after the smaller man got him in a headlock.
These accusations come from public defender Jeff Adachi, who called the nightmarish bouts “outrageously sadistic scenarios, that sound like its out of Game of Thrones.” In one of those denials that don’t sound all that convincing, an attorney for the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union representing the deputies, said that the allegations were “exaggerated,” and characterized the fighting as “little more than horseplay.”
Harris said Neu had a tattoo on his right arm and lower leg reading, “850 Mob,” possibly in connection to the jail’s location at 850 Bryant St.
Here’s a report from KNTV, the NBC affiliate in the Bay Area: