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Gladiator-Style Fight Club at San Francisco Jail Results in $60,000 Settlement

by Chad Marks and Ed Lyon

For a second time, the City of San Francisco has agreed to settle a prisoner’s lawsuit stemming from a fight club orchestrated by jail deputies and induced by fear.

Former prisoner Quincy Lewis filed a federal civil rights action against several deputy jailers in November 2017. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that deputies Scott Neu, Clifford Chiba and Eugene Jones created their own Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)-type fight club where Lewis and other prisoners had to battle each other for food and to avoid punishments. 

The prisoners were instructed by Neu and other jailers that they could not seek medical attention if they were injured and that strikes to the face were prohibited because they would draw attention to the fights, according to the lawsuit. 

Deputies would place wagers on the combatants as they squared off in secluded areas of the jail. All of this was done for the jailers’ amusement.

According to Lewis’ complaint, Neu and other deputies had formed a gang within the jail called the “850 Mob” or “850 Mafia.” This referred to the Hall of Justice, which is located at 850 Bryant Street in San Francisco. It was alleged that Neu threatened Lewis and his family at times; in one incident, he said he would “take his cheeks.” The suit claimed that statement referred to anal rape.

In August 2016, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $90,000 to three other prisoners – Ricardo Palikiko-Garcia, Stanley Harris and Keith Richardson – who were victims of fights sanctioned by the “850 Mob.”

According to court records, Neu was fired and both Jones and Chiba were reassigned to positions with no contact with prisoners. 

A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office said the $60,000 settlement in Lewis’ case, reached in November 2018, “represents a reasonable outcome given all of the circumstances, as well as the inherent risks and uncertainty of [going to] trial.” See: Lewis v. City and County of San Francisco, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:17-cv-06405-WHA.

Meanwhile, Neu was charged with four counts of felony assault, four counts of criminal threats and a number of other misdemeanor charges. Both Jones and Chiba also were charged. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.17].

However, the criminal charges were dismissed by prosecutors in February 2019, with Superior Court Judge Ross Moody granting their motion. The dismissal was not with prejudice, which leaves open the possibility of the charges being refiled.

The primary issue tainting the prosecution was a parallel investigation by criminal investigators and internal affairs division (IAD) officers in the sheriff’s department. In the possible melding of the two investigations, compelled statements and their results, made to IAD officers, cannot be used in criminal proceedings where a person cannot be compelled to answer incriminating questions pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. 

Compounding problems with the case was the destruction of evidence by the IAD. Despite a preservation order for a laptop hard drive used by IAD Sergeant David Murphy, the drive was destroyed by someone in the division. Entries concerning the case stored on that drive were essential to prosecutors and even more so to the defense – to prove the virtual wall between the criminal and administrative investigations may have been breached. 

Prosecutors pointed out this was one of many problems associated with agencies that investigate themselves, and said the case was being forwarded to the Independent Investigations Bureau. The IIB’s main function is to investigate officer-involved shootings, uses of force and in-custody deaths. 

Defense attorney Harry Stern contested that move and the dismissal of the charges without prejudice, arguing instead for dismissal with prejudice. Stern interpreted Judge Moore’s comments when granting the prosecution’s motion to dismiss to mean “if they [the prosecutors] try to go through this again they’re going to have a tough road to hoe.” 

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Sources: sfexaminer.com, sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com, sfchronicle.com, ktvu.com