San Francisco sheriff deputies charged for 'Fight Club' duels

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - Three San Francisco sheriff's deputies were charged with arranging "Fight Club" duels between jail inmates, and one of the deputies made prisoners gamble for food, clothing and bedding, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The criminal charges came as newly elected San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy was implementing jail reforms, such as increased use of video cameras, to prevent such offences.

The case brought by the San Francisco District Attorney's Office described scenes reminiscent of the 1999 film "Fight Club", starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

The two current San Francisco sheriff's deputies and one former deputy were expected to surrender within two days, said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the prosecutors.

Prosecutors brought the most serious charges against ex-deputy Scott Neu, including assault by an officer, criminal threats and inhumanity to a prisoner. He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Deputies Eugene A. Jones and Clifford Chiba were charged with cruel and unusual punishment and willful omission to perform their duty, and Jones was also charged with assault by an officer.

On March 5, 2015, Neu pitted two jail inmates against each other, threatening to use a taser gun against them unless they fought, prosecutors said.

Thinking they had no choice, the inmates battled and the smaller one hurt his rib, prosecutors said. Chiba is accused of watching the melee and not stopping it.

The next day, Neu again forced the pair to fight and this time Jones took part in pitting the two inmates against each other, prosecutors said.

At other times, Neu forced inmates to gamble for food, clean clothing, bedding and other items, the prosecutor added.

Neu's attorney, Harry Stern, said in a statement there was no "fight club".

"Deputy Neu allowed two inmates to wrestle to settle a minor dispute. In retrospect, he shouldn’t have. This is the sum and substance of the case," Stern said.

It was unclear if the two current sheriff's deputies, who were on leave, had obtained attorneys.

Hennessy, who was elected in November, said the accused deputies were stationed at an outdated jail and the alleged actions occurred under her predecessor, Ross Mirkarimi.

"I'm not going to say it's his fault. What I am going to say is we need to do more there," Hennessy said in a phone interview.

District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement that subjecting inmates "to degrading and inhumane treatment makes a mockery of (the) justice system."

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Richard Chang)