David Silva was beaten to death by Kern County, Calif. deputies on the evening of May 8. Several eyewitnesses recorded the incident on their smartphones, only to be detained or to have their phones seized by the same sheriff’s department responsible for the beating. One of the phones has a video missing. Other videos that survived official custody show deputies striking Silva with batons. Eyewitnesses confirm that deputies brutally beat Silva even after he was motionless. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood made an unprecedented decision to ask for independent FBI investigation into Silva’s death and the missing phone video. The phones were flown to the FBI offices in Sacramento where they were examined and returned to their owners. According to a May 15 LA Times article, Silva’s death and the resulting investigation have put a spotlight on police brutality in Kern County.
John Tello, a lawyer for the witnesses, will arrange for another phone analysis. He told the Bakersfield Californian on May 15 that the remaining videos could be made public on Friday.
According to a May 14 LA Times report, Melissa Quair, 31,was at the scene with her mother and a friend who each recorded separate videos of the beating. She confirmed that both videos were fine when they were played back. Laura Vasquez, 26, is a friend of the Quair family. She also watched both videos and confirmed that they vividly depicted the violence. Several other videos, including a grainy security camera version, were also part of the record.
Quair said “They must have gotten rid of one of the videos.”
Quair, her family and several friends were at Kern Medical Center in East Bakersfield after a family member was in a car accident. Silva was sleeping in front of a house near the hospital when deputies arrived and ordered him not to move. Silva sat up, dazed, and a deputy hit him in the head. Deputies kept hitting and kicking the screaming victim, eventually hogtying him, lifting him off the ground and dropping him twice. They delivered baton blows and kicks to his head and body until he went limp. Vasquez said, “The blood was all over Mr. Silva’s face. We couldn’t even tell if he had eyes or a mouth.”
Witnesses also recounted how deputies tried to block them to prevent video recordings. Sheriff’s detectives detained several witnesses at the scene after they refused to turn over any phones with videos. Detectives also obtained search warrants for two more phones. This is how any missing video could easily be seen as evidence tampering in a possible murder case.
Kern County’s sheriff’s deputies have caused other suspicious deaths, each of which would have justified a Sheriff’s request for FBI investigation. In 2005, a jail inmate died while in custody, resulting in a $6 million civil award. In 2010, a man was struck 33 times with batons and Tasered 29 times. The man died and the family was awarded $4.5 million.
Kern county officials have put the involved deputies on suspension with pay and is withholding further decisions until the evidence is complete.