The usual story. Law enforcement looks after itself. Always
Excerpted from San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner 2.2.2019
The San Francisco District Attorney’s office on Thursday dismissed charges against three sheriff’s deputies who stood accused of staging an inmate “fight club” in San Francisco jails in 2015 after defense attorneys brought forward evidence the Sheriff’s Department had botched the investigation.
Attorneys for the three accused deputies maintain evidence was mishandled and destroyed.
Nicole Pifari, attorney for one of the accused deputies, in a Motion to Dismiss, told the Court, “Upon further inquiry, the Sheriff’s Department explained that ‘sometime in October,’ approximately seven months after they had received two preservation demands, the Sheriff’s Department destroyed the laptop’s hard drive by smashing it with a hammer.”
The District Attorney’s Office filed felony and misdemeanor charges against deputies Eugene Jones and Scott Neu in March 2015 after Public Defender Jeff Adachi brought forward information from inmates saying deputies had forced them to fight for food like gladiators and gambled on the winners. A third deputy, Clifford Chiba, was also charged with two misdemeanors.
The deputies threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they didn’t fight each other for the deputies’ amusement, Adachi said.
“It’s extremely disappointing, and it sends the wrong message,” Adachi said. “You are forcing prisoners to fight against each other and betting money on it — and you get away with it. Yeah, charges were brought, but because the Sheriff’s Department bungled its own investigation you’re free to go. What kind of message does that send to people who always assume American jails are better?”
“The problem here as far as I can tell is they didn’t know what they were doing. Keystone cops were assigned to investigate their fellow deputies,” he added. “You can certainly wonder if the investigation was intentionally conducted in an incompetent manner.”
While San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ross Moody granted the district attorney’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges that carried possible state prison terms, a new prosecution team will review the case to determine whether there is enough untainted evidence to proceed with new charges.
At the center of the dismissal decision are statements the deputies were required to make during an internal affairs investigation by the Sheriff’s Department. Such statements, known as “compelled statements,” cannot legally be used in criminal probes because they violate a defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Law enforcement agencies usually isolate administrative and criminal investigations from each other in a process called “walling off” to avoid such conflicts.