Federal investigators will be looking into allegations that San Francisco inmates were forced to fight "gladiator-style" while deputies gambled on the outcome, FBI officials told BuzzFeed News Friday.
The investigation will be handled by the FBI's internal affairs unit and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sheriff Ross Mirakirimi, who said he was launching an internal investigation in March when Public Defender Jeff Adachi released details of the fights, announced the independent investigation Friday, according to the Associated Press.
"We take allegations of civil rights violations very seriously," the FBI's written statement read.
An investigation by the public defender's office found San Francisco County jail inmates were forced to fight in "gladiator-style matches" while at least two deputies placed bets on the outcome.
The inmates were promised hamburgers if they won.
Those who refused to fight were threatened with pepper spray, beatings or transfer to more dangerous sections of the jail, according to a report released Thursday by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
"These revelations are sickening," Adachi said in a written statement.
On Thursday, Adachi also sent a letter to San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi asking him to remove six deputies who either organized or witnessed the fights.
"This is a matter that requires your immediate intervention or order to ensure the safety of our clients," Adachi wrote to Mirkarimi.
According to Adachi, several of the inmate fight allegations revolve around Scott Neu, a sheriff's deputy who was named in a lawsuit filed over alleged sexual assaults at the jail.
Inmates told investigators for the public defender's office that Neu would force some inmates to do push-ups in front of others, referred to an inmate as "Fat Boy" and his "fighter," and tell people he was "training" him.
Before one of the fights, Neu allegedly told the inmates "anything goes," but that they were not to report any injuries to the jail's medical section.
After the fight, another deputy approached the inmate and told him he would have to fight again because he missed the previous match.
The fights are believed to have occurred in the seventh-floor jail in the Hall of Justice in areas that are not under video surveillance. Mirkarimi described the alleged fights as "barbaric," Fox affiliate KTVU reported.
Mirkarimi, who said he only learned of the allegations Thursday morning, announced that he was inviting the Department of Justice to assist with the investigation.
Four deputies allegedly involved in the inmate fights have been placed on administrative leave, Mirkarimi said. Two of the bailiffs who knew of the fights but didn't report them have not been reassigned.
The investigation was launched two weeks ago after the father of an inmate told his son's public defender about the abuse, according to the public defender's office.
The investigation is apparently still ongoing, but Adachi decided to release the report Thursday after learning deputies were planning another inmate fight.
Rico Palikiko Garcio, an inmate in the jail, told investigators he suffered a cracked rib during one of the fights, and that he was afraid deputies could act with impunity in the lockup.
Another inmate, Stanly Harris, told investigators Neu forced him to do push-ups and to fight in the matches. In exchange, Harris said he got fresh laundry.
"On one occasion, Neu threatened to handcuff Harris and take him to a room where three awaiting Ddeputies would beat him," according to the report.
Neu had been organizing fights since early March, Harris said, and would call him his "prize," the public defender's office reported.
Court documents show Neu has faced serious allegations as a deputy serving in San Francisco jails.
In August 2008, the county was sued by a previous inmate over sexual assault allegations.
According to the suit's complaints, Neu explosed himself to a 27-year-old inmate who was undergoing hormonal therapy at the time.
Neu allegedly escorted the inmate to the jail's library, groped his breasts and commanded he perform oral sex.
Neu managed to keep the relationship a secret by giving the inmate "gifts and alternatively threatening to make his life hell," the lawsuit alleged.
The case was dismissed a year later after a settlement was reached.