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Inmates at San Francisco's Hall of Justice are accusing several prison guards of forcing them to fight "gladiator-style" for hamburgers and threatening them with beatings if they refused, according to a report released by the public defender's office on Thursday.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi wrote a letter on Thursday to San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi urging him to take "immediate intervention" against the four deputies who were involved in the alleged staged fighting between 23-year-old prisoner Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, who was forced to fight and fellow inmate Stanly Harris, who is two times his size. According to the letter, the deputies involved in the forced fights were Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba, and Evan Staehly.
In a statement, 23-year-old Garcia, who is in custody on drug and gun possession charges, detailed the fear he had if the brawls persisted.
"I feel scared for my life," Garcia said. "I don't know when they're gonna come and, you know, try to basically attack or anything. I'm kind of just walking on eggshells."
Inmates who fought and won were allegedly promised hamburgers, and those who refused to fight were threatened with pepper spray and beatings, Garcia said.
The investigation came after Garcia's father alerted Adachi's office of the alleged fighting on March 12. Adachi then interviewed Garcia, who told him that he was forced to fight twice, and that the deputies had another bout set up.
Garcia said in a statement that the deputies warned him about reporting any injuries to the jail's medical section. He said inmates were also told that they cannot punch each other in the face.
"And he told me anything goes. Just don't punch in the face, so no one can basically see the marks. But anything goes other than the face," Garcia said in the statement.
Deputies were also betting money on the fights, according to Garcia. Neu was betting on Harris, who lost the first fight, while a second guard who was betting on Garcia told him before the second fight, "Good luck. I'm counting on you today," according to Garcia. Two other guards allegedly stood by chanting.
Deputy Neu is alleged to be the ringleader in these forced fights. He also has a history of alleged sexual assault against inmates from 2006.
Harris also confirmed the accusations, and pointed out Neu as the ringleader, saying that Neu made him do 200 push-ups and threatened the prisoners if they did not fight. Neu also allegedly threatened to rape Harris if he did not train for the second fight.
"Deputy Neu forced these young men to participate in gladiator-style fights for his own sadistic entertainment," Adachi said in a statement.
In a statement regarding the inmates' accusations, deputy union attorney Harry Stern stated, "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," he added. "The 'wrestling' was essentially little more than horseplay. There was no betting. The inmates were never forced to work out. They were never forced to fight."
San Francisco prosecutors said in a statement that "Common sense indicates that such conduct does not occur without the knowledge of numerous people. "These allegations require an independent and thorough investigation into the practices and supervision at the San Francisco Sheriff's Department."
Neu, Staehely, Jones, and Chiba have been placed on paid administrative leave, according to said Mark Nicco, assistant legal counsel for the sheriff's department.