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San Francisco Sheriff's Deputies Accused of Forcing Jailed Inmates to Participate in 'Fight Club'

Three deputies stand accused of forcing inmates to fight, gamble, and exercise under threat of physical punishment.
Photo via San Francisco Sherriff's Department

San Francisco sheriff's deputies allegedly created and oversaw a "fight club" that featured inmates brawling with one another under threat of punishment, according to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who announced charges Tuesday for three deputies.

According to the the prosecutor's office, Deputy Scott Neu, the alleged ringleader of the case, forced inmates to fight "gladiator-style" against their will or face punishments including being maced, tased, beaten, or moved to another jail. Another officer, Deputy Eugene Jones, is accused of helping Neu to force the inmates to fight, while a third, Deputy Clifford Chiba, is accused of standing by and doing nothing while Neu prompted the fighting.

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Neu is also accused of forcing inmates to do push-ups and dips and to gamble for food, clean clothing, and bedding.

All three were Sheriff's Department employees stationed at the county jail in San Francisco, where they worked on the seventh floor, according to the prosecutor's office. Neu has since been fired from the department.

"This not only speaks to a lack of professionalism by these deputies, but rather speaks to grossly inhumane treatment against human beings that were in these deputies' charge and responsibility," Gascón said during a press conference Tuesday announcing the charges.

Related: Former LA Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Lying, Thwarting Federal Investigation

Neu faces 17 criminal charges for his role in forcing at least two inmates to fight. The charges included assault, making threats, inhumanity to a prisoner, and inflicting cruel and unusual punishment.

Neu's attorney, Harry Stern, told SFGate that while fighting did occur under his watch, it was only to allow inmates to "blow off steam," according to the report. He also said the case was politically-motivated and was spurred by Gascón's quest for self-promotion.

The other two deputies, Jones and Chiba, were charged with inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and breaching their official duties.

 "Subjecting inmates who are in our care and custody to degrading and inhumane treatment makes a mockery of our criminal justice system and undermines any efforts toward rehabilitation," Gascón said at the press conference, according to SFGate.

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Gascón's office announced the charges following a yearlong investigation prompted by the complaints of two inmates. According to the Los Angeles Times, the father of one of the inmates had complained to the San Francisco public defender's office about the forced fighting.

The documents allege that the deputies forced the two inmates, who were described as significantly mismatched in size, to fight on consecutive days, despite severe injuries.

Related: What America's Creeping Criminal Justice Reform Looks Like From the Inside

"They were friends," Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the public defender who first received the complaints, said at the press conference Tuesday. "They did not want to fight each other, but were being forced to do this and threatened that if they did not fight and did not exhibit a real fight, there would be real consequences. These two individuals were terrified when they came to us."

San Francisco's new sheriff, Vicki Hennessy, took office after the alleged incidents and said she has taken steps to prevent any similar condcut from happening again.

Gascón's office did not immediately respond to VICE News' request for comment.