(CNN)At just 150 pounds, it was hardly fair to pit Ricardo Palikiko Garcia against an opponent well over twice his size. But Garcia had to fight him — or else he’d allegedly face torture.
Running away was not an option for the inmate locked inside a San Francisco jail.
Like the gladiators of old, Garcia and others were forced into pugilistic matches, local authorities said. Four sheriff’s deputies then placed bets on their bouts.
And race may have played a role, said public defender Jeff Adachi. The deputies were white; the coerced convicts all men of color.
The San Francisco County Sheriff’s office has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
Adachi interviewed the victims, who were being held at the Hall of Justice, including inmate Garcia.
“Deputy’s betting against me and forcing me to fight and if I don’t fight, then he’s basically telling me that he was going to beat me up, cuff me, Tase me all at once,” Garcia said in an audio recording.
The deputies spurred Garcia’s 350-pound adversary on, Adachi told CNN affiliate KGO.
“Chanting like, ‘Get him. Get him. Hit him. (Expletive) him up or kick him in the (expletive). Stuff like that,” Garcia said.
Investigators fear the fights may have gone on for a while. For Garcia, there was a lead-up. Deputies forced him to do pushups to train for fights.
Many at the jail may have known what was going on but kept their mouths shut, authorities said.
“It is impossible for just two or three or even four deputies to commandeer the jail and stage fights without other deputies being aware of it,” said public defender Matt Gonzalez.
“Common sense indicates that such conduct does not occur without the knowledge of numerous people,” District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement.
One deputy was the main instigator, Adachi said. He had been accused of sexually assaulting inmates in 2006, but was not convicted.
Deputies had scheduled Garcia for an upcoming fight, but his father turned to authorities, and they put a stop to it.