San Fran Inmates: Guards Made Us Fight for Food
Three inmates have settled their lawsuit alleging they were forced into a jailhouse fight club—in which they were paid for wins in burgers—but three deputies could still face jail time.
A trio of San Francisco inmates who accused county jailers of forcing them to fight like gladiators have settled a federal lawsuit for $90,000.
But criminal charges remain active against the sheriff’s deputies who allegedly prepped the prisoners for battle and placed bets on their brawls.
“It was shocking what happened. It was disgusting. It was something that shouldn’t have happened, and hopefully will never happen again,” said Lateef Gray, a civil rights attorney for the former inmates.
Gray told The Daily Beast that Stanley Harris and Ricardo Palakiko-Garcia each received $35,000 as part of the settlement. Keith Dwayne Richardson, who refused to spar in the San Francisco County jail’s fight club, received $20,000.
“No matter what they’re in jail for, they shouldn’t be treated like this,” Gray said, adding that the men had been released from jail by the time they filed the lawsuit in March 2016.
Three deputies were charged over the alleged gladiator ring earlier this year, after a probe by District Attorney George Gascón and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They have pleaded not guilty.
Former deputy Scott R. Neu—the alleged ringleader—faces 10 years behind bars for a slew of charges, including four felony counts of assault under color of authority and four counts of making criminal threats.
Prosecutors say Neu forced Palakiko-Garcia, who is 150 pounds, to wrestle the 6-foot-tall, 350-pound Harris on the seventh floor of the county jail. Neu allegedly threatened to handcuff, mace or tase, and beat the prisoners if they refused.
Neu was fired in 2015 after the allegations became public. The jailer was previously named in sexual assault lawsuits by inmates who received settlements from the county in 2009, but he was never charged criminally, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Deputies Eugene A. Jones and Clifford T. Chiba are also facing criminal charges over the alleged fight club. Both are still employed with the sheriff’s office but not in roles that put them in contact with inmates, a sheriff’s department spokeswoman said.
“I can only describe this as an outrageously sadistic scenario that sounds like it’s out of the Game of Thrones,” said Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s public defender, at a news conference announcing an investigation into the ring.
The allegations outlined by the DA mirror claims in the federal lawsuit, which was filed one year after the alleged fight club occurred.
According to the civil complaint, Palakiko-Garcia was booked into San Francisco County Jail in January 2015 and assigned to work in the jail’s kitchen.
Palakiko-Garcia “immediately… came under the scrutiny” of Deputy Neu, who called him “little guy,” court papers allege.
One day, Neu saw Palakiko-Garcia hauling a bag with two eggs and allegedly made him gamble for them. Neu pulled out a deck of cards and asked Palakiko-Garcia to pick one in a game of “high-low,” the complaint says.
Palakiko-Garcia won, but Neu snatched the eggs anyway, the suit states. Neu allegedly made the prisoner gamble throughout his period of incarceration.
Harris was also allegedly targeted by Neu. The deputy forced him to do pushups and other exercises in front of fellow prisoners, the complaint alleges.
Neu stood over Harris, whom he referred to as his “fighter” in “training,” and insulted him as he struggled through the exercises, the lawsuit says. The deputy also allegedly referred to Harris as “fat boy.”
“What’s up, little man? You want to see my champion?” Neu asked Palakiko-Garcia in March 2015, according to the suit.
Palakiko-Garcia allegedly agreed to follow Neu’s lead out of fear of the deputy. Neu then ordered Harris and Palakiko-Garcia into an area of the jail shielded from security cameras and passers-by, the complaint alleges.
The two prisoners faced one another, and Neu told them they’d fight and “explain[ed] the rules of engagement,” the lawsuit says.
Neu allegedly warned them not to strike each other’s faces and said they couldn’t seek medical attention after the bout. “If either of you gets injured, you are to say that you fell out of the bunk beds,” Neu told his scrappers, court papers state.
Palakiko-Garcia said he didn’t want to participate, that he had no problems with Harris and wanted to return to work, the complaint says.
In response, Neu threatened to “cuff and fuck him up,” the lawsuit alleges. The cop allegedly told the prisoners they’d lose their kitchen jobs if they tattled to medical staff.
Then Neu allegedly promised a cheeseburger to the champion of the sadistic free-for-all. Despite Palakiko-Garcia’s pleas, the deputy forced the inmates into battle for three minutes and egged them on, court papers say.
Deputy Clifford Chiba was also present, goading the men into grappling for the guards’ entertainment, the lawsuit says.
During the sickening match, both men fell to the ground. Palakiko-Garcia put Harris, who grew exhausted, into a headlock and forced him to “tap out,” ending the contest, the complaint alleges.
“Motherfucker, I don’t like losing money,” Neu allegedly barked at Harris, before warning the duo they’d joust again in a week.
Shortly after, Deputy Chiba escorted the inmates back to the kitchen, the complaint says. “Listen, fat boy. If he uses that on you next time, this is how you get out,” Chiba allegedly told Harris, miming an escape move.
Neu allegedly scolded Harris, saying, “You gave up.” The jailer then ordered Harris to do pushups and announced he’d force the inmate to start training at 7 a.m. the following morning, the lawsuit claims.
During this morning workout, Neu allegedly blustered, “You’re my prizefighter,” before making Harris do 200 pushups. Like a ringside coach, Neu exhorted Harris to win his next match during the entire drill, the complaint says.
Meanwhile, Deputy Eugene Jones allegedly asked Palakiko-Garcia to fight again because he “missed” the lockup rumble.
Palakiko-Garcia told Deputy Jones he didn’t want to duel with anyone and needed time to recover from his injuries. Jones allegedly ignored Palakiko-Garcia and replied, “I’m counting on you, are you ready?”
The inmate told Jones he never got the cheeseburger he was promised, the lawsuit says.
Days later, Jones allegedly appeared in the kitchen and told Palakiko-Garcia, “Neu has your hamburger, c’mon.”
Neu was right behind Jones. “Fight or I’ll fuck you up!” he allegedly screamed.
According to the lawsuit, Neu told Harris he could clash in “a round with me” or a rematch with Palakiko-Garcia.
Neu allegedly escorted the inmates to the jail’s secluded fight ring, where deputies Jones and Evan Staehely were allegedly waiting. (Staehely wasn’t charged criminally over the alleged prisoner matchups.)
The inmates were once again told “anything goes” except for blows to the face, court papers reveal. Harris and Palakiko-Garcia allegedly fought hard, with Harris landing a punch to his opponent’s scrotum.
Collapsing in pain, Palakiko-Garcia asked for a timeout—a request denied by the trio of sheriff’s spectators, the complaint says.
Palakiko-Garcia struggled to breathe and Harris got on top of him moments before two other deputies ran toward the commotion, the lawsuit alleges. Jones allegedly waved the jailers away. But Neu stopped the sparring, worried those deputies were going to “say something,” according to court documents.
The two prisoners shook hands after the end of the second battle royale, which angered Neu, the lawsuit says.
After returning to the kitchen, Palakiko-Garcia couldn’t work because of injuries to his ribs, shoulder, and groin, the court papers state.
According to the lawsuit, Palakiko-Garcia filed a medical complaint days later when deputies Neu, Jones, and Staehely were off duty. He allegedly withdrew it over fears that he’d be sent to the jail’s mainline, where rougher prisoners were kept.
Neu allegedly continued to threaten Palakiko-Garcia, saying he would “fuck him up” and asking if he’d “ever been handcuffed, maced, and had your ass beat?”
For his part, Harris says he witnessed Neu harass inmates from 2010 to 2012, when Neu would take his food and make him play dice or cards, or do pushups, to get his food back, according to court papers.
On Harris’s release day in 2012, Neu allegedly called his name and ordered him to do 50 pushups to get out of the gate. He finished the pushups in about an hour and felt “extreme embarrassment and fear,” the lawsuit says.
Neu and Harris would meet again in Harris’s most recent jail stint.
The deputy allegedly grabbed Harris’s food and tossed it to nearby inmates, saying Harris “was already fat enough and should not be eating any more food,” the lawsuit states. The deputy allegedly continued to appear unexpectedly and force Harris to work out.
In March 2015, Neu allegedly doffed his work gear and challenged Harris to a bout. Neu threatened Harris, saying he’d make him “tap out,” and Harris believed the cop’s “motives may have been sexual,” court papers allege.
The deputy often threatened to “take [Harris’s] cheeks,” a reference to having forced anal intercourse, the lawsuit says.
According to the complaint, Harris was well aware of Neu’s reputation of sexually assaulting other inmates.
Harris is “deathly afraid” of deputies Neu, Jones, Staehely, and Chiba. He believes they are “validated gang members with far reaching powers,” the complaint alleges. Harris alleged that Neu had flashed a tattoo indicating he’s a member of a gang called the “850 Mob.”
Another inmate, Keith Dwayne Richardson, claimed Neu called him “nigger” and threatened to hurt him if he didn’t attack a white inmate, the lawsuit says. Richardson was fearful but refused to grapple with the white prisoner, court papers state.
In February 2015, Richardson was moved to a cell block close to the fight club, the complaint says.
A month later, Richardson allegedly watched Neu escort Harris out of his cell to brawl. Palakiko-Garcia often confided in Richardson regarding Neu’s alleged role as a jailhouse fight promoter.
Palakiko-Garcia told Richardson his ribs were hurting, and the latter advised him to visit the nurse’s office, the lawsuit says.
Richardson also alleged Neu would force him to gamble—playing 21, dice, and a ping-pong ball game—to obtain food, clothes, television, and work privileges.
Even if Richardson won, Neu declined to provide the promised prizes, court papers allege.
Richardson allegedly witnessed Palakiko-Garcia and Harris receive hamburgers for winning the contests. He also claimed deputies taught inmates tactics, including how to land chokeholds and strike the testicles of opponents. He said he overheard the deputies discuss how much money they lost in their bets.
Earlier this year, defense attorneys for the deputies balked at the criminal charges presented by DA Gascón.
Chris Shea, an attorney for Deputy Chiba, told the Chronicle, “I think that the political grandstanding and holding a press conference before alerting the attorneys is incredibly unprofessional.”
Harry Stern, who is representing Neu, previously said the case revealed the DA’s “unquenchable thirst for self-promotion.”
“Deputy Neu allowed two inmates to wrestle to settle a minor dispute,” Stern told the Chronicle in March. “In retrospect, he shouldn’t have. This is the sum and substance of the case. I look forward to reviewing the evidence presented and will address it accordingly.
“There was no ‘fight club,’” he added. “These were incarcerated career criminals whom he allowed to let off steam.”
Shea did not return messages left by The Daily Beast, and an attorney for Deputy Jones could not be reached.
When contacted by The Daily Beast on Thursday, Stern would only say that the prisoners’ settlement “sounds like a nuisance value resolution when compared with the wild claims these inmates made.”