Let's take a spin through just a few of the issues that have plagued the San Francisco Sheriff's Department in recent years, shall we?
- November, 2012: San Francisco Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Michael Kim parties with an associate of notorious gangster "Shrimp Boy" Chow, flips his truck on 101...but is never cited or disciplined.
- October, 2013: Though they claimed to have searched San Francisco General for missing patient Lynne Spaulding, days after she disappeared her body was found in a locked hospital stairway.
- November, 2014: Deputy Mike Lewelling is caught on video unleashing an unprovoked beating and choking of man in an SF General waiting room.
- March, 2015: A major drug kingpin who, by all accounts, should never have been allowed in an unsecured area, somehow manages to escape from a single deputy. Incompetence, or something worse?
And now we have this, the news that SF Sheriff's deputies who worked at the SF County Jail have been forcing inmates to fight one another as the deputies gamble on the outcomes of the matches.
Seriously, it's a jailhouse tale you'd expect from Quentin Tarantino, "mandingo fighting" and all. (I was going to bring up Ricochet, but the Lithgow and Ventura characters seemed like willing participants in their battle.) Except, of course, that mandingo fighting, as Tarantino presented it in Django Unchained, isn't real. But in this case, even SF's Sheriff seems to believe that the forced brawls went on.
At the press conference, Adachi played recorded conversations with two inmates of County Jail #4, which is on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice. In the recordings, inmates Ricardo Palikiko Garcia and Stanley Harris said that Sheriff's Deputy Scott Neu, as well as Deputies Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba, and Evan Staehely told multiple inmates that they must fight one another or "be sprayed with Mace, severely beaten and transferred to dangerous housing quarters," the New York Times reports.
Barry Simon, a private investigator of jail misconduct, corraborated those claims with "several" other inmates. According to the Ex, "all the witnesses had stories that aligned with one another and added that the deputes directly involved were not the only ones who bared responsibility, including two bailiffs reported to have seen at least one fight: deputies Aquino and Collins."
The story has since been reported and re-reported around the globe, putting an international black eye on a department that ran out of eyes to blacken years ago.
In the wake of yesterday's allegations, officials including the heads of the San Francisco Police Department, the SF District Attorney's Office, and SF's Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi have promised swift punishment for those responsible. In fact, only one group, the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association, is denying the inmates' claims.
In a statement sent at nearly 8 p.m. Thursday, Mirkarimi said:
On March 26, 2015, at approximately 9:35 a.m., Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi received a telephone call from Public Defender Jeff Adachi alerting the Sheriff to serious allegations of misconduct involving four deputy sheriffs. Sheriff Mirkarimi immediately took swift and decisive action regarding this complaint of intolerable misconduct.
Sheriff Mirkarimi immediately placed the four deputy sheriffs named in this allegation on administrative leave. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s Internal Affairs Unit and command staff responded to County Jail #4 to begin an investigation. To ensure greater transparency and accountability the Sheriff is requesting the Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into these allegations.
Sheriff Mirkarimi condemns the behavior in these allegations. The Sheriff’s primary concern is for the safety and well-being of inmates and staff. To that end, he ordered
two of the named inmates in the allegation moved to different housing locations.
Sheriff Mirkarimi stated that the Sheriff’s Department will not tolerate misconduct of any kind. All allegations of misconduct are investigated immediately and, if appropriate, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Sheriff Mirkarimi stated, “I am outraged at the conduct described in these allegations and my administration is committed to eradicating any behavior that belies the trust in our public servants”.
This might be a good time to mention alleged fight club ringleader Deputy Scott Neu's history of misconduct allegations. He was accused in 2006 of forcing a female inmate and two male-to-female transgender inmates to perform sex acts on him. The city settled the cases out of court, the LA Times reports.
It's unclear why the San Francisco would agree to settle these cases if the allegations were unfounded, or if they has basis in fact, why Neu would still be interacting with inmates (or have a job at all).
Perhaps the answer to that questions can be indirectly found in the remarks made regarding the current case by Eugene Cerbone, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
“I find it very hard to believe what is being alleged is the truth. I don’t believe Jeff Adachi either. He has a history of defending crooks no matter what,” Cerbone told the Ex. What a dig against a defense attorney, that he defends people! You sure got him there, Cerbone. And does Neu count as a "crook" if his multiple cases were settled by the city?
Even frequent Adachi nemesis and SF District Attorney George Gascon is unwilling to put a spin on the case, saying in a statement sent last night that:
The conduct alleged against these Sheriff’s Department deputies is deplorable. 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. We encourage anyone with information to please contact the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
SFPD Chief Greg Suhr is also on the case, telling the Chron that the allegations “are egregious enough that I forwarded them on (to the special investigations division)."
In fact, the only other person willing to stand up for the accused deputies is Harry Stern, the attorney for San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association. Here's the statement he sent:
Public Defender Jeff Adachi's duty is to ensure that due process is afforded everyone. The hypocrisy of Adachi engaging in the kind of trial by one-sided press conference can't go unchallenged. He's done only a cursory, sham investigation by interviewing only a few inmates over a scant two days, rather than have the decency to request a serious, impartial investigation. The initial indication is that some inmates working with Adachi exaggerated basically what's a benign situation. One deputy may have encouraged the inmate to work out. The deputy may have also allowed two inmates to wrestle in order to settle a dispute about who was stronger. The wrestling was essentially little more than horseplay. No betting, inmates were never forced to work out, they were never forced to fight.
Given everything that's gone down with this department, do you buy Stern's defense? Who's to blame for what appears to be chronic issues in the Sheriff's Department? (Rremember that Neu's case was in 2006-2008, and Mirkarimi didn't take office until 2011. Not that that necessarily lets him off the hook!)
And, finally, can this department be fixed? Right now, you have to wonder.