Inmate ‘gladiator games’ enjoyed by San Francisco Sheriff Department staff
Sometimes the news coming out of San Francisco is just so bizarre that it sounds like the screenplay for a dystopian science fiction movie. Such was the case Thursday, March 26, when many had to blink twice when they first heard or read about at least four sheriffs’ deputies in the Hall of Justice building being accused of running a prisoners’ fight club and gambling operation for entertainment there.
Just the day before on March 25, the big news coming from the same location was that the San Francisco Police Department was moving out of its fifth floor headquarters in the 57 year-old building. Citing infrastructure problems in the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street, the SFPD was heading for the Mission District to its new $243 million dollar digs, built to withstand “the big one.”
The Hall of Justice building is not only compromised in terms of being unable to withstand an earthquake, it represents the whole infrastructure of justice in the city and county of San Francisco — compromised in terms of human dignity.
Known as the “Seventh Floor,” county jail No. 4 in the Hall of Justice has been the sadistic setting where inmates have been forced to fight like gladiators, evoking not only Rome, but the violence of Dante’s seventh circle of hell as well. Threatened with mace, handcuffed beatings, and having their food withheld, prisoners were “trained” and threatened with sexual violence if they would not battle. The guards enjoyed betting on the outcomes of these barbaric fights that took place where surveillance cameras do not exist or are inoperable inside the antiquated structure.
The fighting ring overseer has been in trouble before. He was accused in 2006 of forcing prisoners to perform sexual acts on him, a filthy case that was settled out of court in 2009. Inmates say he has “850 Mob” tattooed on his right arm and leg, references to both his “work” location at 850 Bryant Street and “Money over bitches.” His training mantra was simple: “Anything goes, other than the face,” a sure visual alert of impropriety.
The news conference for this disturbing news was hastily arranged by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who feared an upcoming Seventh Floor fight more than waiting until the inmates were safely out of jail.
No one will ever say with a straight face that Public Defender Jeff Adachi is compromised. Ever. He said this operation is the most “outrageous” scenario he has seen in his 30-year career, more like the Game of Thrones that an actual event. Adachi is intent on shutting such violence down.
The prisoners who had been coerced into fighting — and who now probably fear for their safety even more so — have been moved to a county jail in San Bruno, and the first four of the sheriffs’ deputies have already been placed on administrative leave.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who attended the Thursday conference along with many startled reporters, listened as Adachi and private investigator Barry Simon revealed their findings and clips from their interviews. Mirkarimi has already said on record that the involvement in the department probably goes deeper than just the four deputies.
In fact, he delivered a chilling statement in the Mark Matthews’ TV report aired on news anchor Jessica Aguirre’s NBC Bay Area News. Mirkarimi was blunt on camera, saying, “The thin blue line sometimes extends to prisons and jails,”referring to the blue silence that all who wear the badge reserve unequivocally for one another.
The details of this atrocity are already so sordid that many will be too embarrassed to “follow” this story, I am certain. I probably would have been too grossed out as well if my son Dylan Yount had not died in a suicide baiting in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, on 2-16-10 in what many have referred to as another “gladiator game.” His death was absolute “entertainment” for other sadists who enjoyed provoking an unstable man to jump six stories to his death while 24 participating SFPD officers stood by — snickering in approval.
What is most significant about this SFSD misconduct scandal, though, is how closely it parallels that of the SFPD’s on 2-16-10, especially the subsequent legal representation since then.
Many, like myself, will regard this new spin from the lawyers for the sheriffs’ deputies as every bit as deplorable as the behavior they shamelessly defend. Representation will be from Rains Lucia Stern, P.C., the behemoth law firm representing most law enforcement agencies and unions in Northern California as well as those in the Bay Area, including both the SFSD and the SFPD.
The attorneys have predictably attacked Adachi and have started to spin their blame-the-victim-bias, a favorite San Francisco legal strategy.
Already, they have claimed the fighting was just “wrestling,” only “horseplay.” They have said the fights were “benign” and have deadpanned that the guards “encouraged” an inmate or two “to work out.” They have mitigated the atrocities committed three floors above the former SFPD headquarters as being no more than a game. They should be ashamed for not calling this jail a modern-day Coliseum.
The story is already quite explosive. San Francisco’s watchdog KQED News has reported that Mirkarimi has already reflected that the seventh floor jail in the Hall of Justice should have been shut down a long time ago.
In a remarkable twist he also said that law enforcement in San Francisco is “a little incestuous,” a reference, among many other things, that the state attorney general once was the city’s district attorney and that the current district attorney was once the SFPD chief. Nevertheless, Mirkarimi says he believes the U.S. Department of Justice has the “right tools” for a thorough investigation.
It’s about time.
I wish the DOJ would investigate my son’s case and how the police lawyers have mitigated the circumstances of how he died — humiliated and afraid, the unfortunate butt of another gladiator game played out right above the heads of 24 police who mocked him. After all, in San Francisco if the police show up on the suicide baiting scene, their lawyers say that is all they have to do is watch. This defense is as bad as the crime.