SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Sadistic jailers forced prisoners to fight like gladiators for their amusement and made them gamble for basic necessities like food and clothing, three inmates claim in Federal Court.
The three prisoners - Ricardo Palikko-Garcia, Stanley Harris and Keith Dwayne Richardson - sued the city of San Francisco, its sheriff's department, former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and four sheriff's deputies on Wednesday.
According to the suit, Sheriff's Deputy Scott Neu acted as ringleader of the jailhouse "fight club," telling two prisoners he would beat them, take away their kitchen jobs or transfer them to a less cozy jail if they refused to brawl with one another.
Three of the four sheriff's deputies named in the complaint - Neu, Eugene Jones and Clifford Chiba - were indicted on criminal charges by the San Francisco District Attorney earlier this month for their alleged roles in the fighting ring.
A fourth defendant, Evan Staehely, is accused of watching the brawls with indifference and refusing to let one inmate take a timeout after he was kicked in the groin during a fight.
According to the complaint, Neu often forced Harris to do push-ups as he insulted him and took away his food, calling him a "fat boy" and referring to him as a "fighter" that Neu was "training."
The jailers allegedly made Harris and Palikko-Garcia fight each other on two occasions. Neither inmate wanted to fight, but they felt they had no choice because Neu threatened to beat them, take away their jobs or transfer them to jails with fewer privileges, they say.
The first fight occurred in March 2015 when Neu marched Palikko-Garcia and Harris to a secluded area of the jail where no video cameras could record them. He instructed both prisoners to fight in an "anything goes" bout with only one rule - not to punch each other in the face, they say.
"If either of you gets injured, you are to say that you fell out of the bunk beds," Neu allegedly told the inmates.
The officer promised the winner would receive a cheeseburger.
Palikko-Garcia won the first fight in three minutes after placing Harris in a headlock and making him tap out, but he received no burger for his victory, he says.
Neu routinely made inmates play cards games and dice with him for basic necessities like food and clothing, but even when they won Neu would often deny them the spoils he promised, according to the complaint.
A few days after their first fight, Neu again made Palikko-Garcia and Harris face each other in a violent brawl as officers Jones and Staehely looked on with indifference, according to the suit.
During the second fight, Harris kicked Palikko-Garcia in the groin and injured his shoulder and ribs, but the jailers refused to let Palikko-Garcia take a timeout. The jailers ended that fight prematurely after two other officers unexpectedly walked toward the area, and Neu voiced concern they might "say something," according to the inmates.
On a separate occasion, Neu also tried to get Richardson to fight a white inmate who threw the food Richardson was serving for dinner on the floor. Neu allegedly yelled racial epithets at Richardson in an attempt to anger the black prisoner and pressure him to fight a white inmate, but Richardson refused to do so, he says.
Richardson says he also witnessed Neu taking Harris away from his cell to participate in the gladiator fights and that Pakillo-Garcia told him about the injuries he suffered in the brawls.
The lawsuit lists 18 causes of action against the city, sheriff's department and deputies, including multiple civil rights violations, assault, neglect and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The inmates, represented by civil rights attorney John Burris, seek punitive damages in an amount to be determined "according to proof."
A sheriff's department spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday afternoon, deferring comment to the City Attorney's Office.
Matt Dorsey of the San Francisco City Attorney's Office did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on Thursday.
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