BY LAURA LIERA AND JASON KOTOWSKI – bakersfieldcalifornian.com
Blood stains are still visible on the sidewalk at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive, where a Bakersfield man struggled with as many as nine officers and later died this week.
David Sal Silva, 33 and the father of four young children, died early Wednesday morning after deputies say he fought with them and CHP officers who’d responded to a report of a possibly intoxicated man outside Kern Medical Center.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office says Silva resisted, a canine was deployed, more law enforcement arrived, batons were used and the man later had trouble breathing. He was taken to KMC, where he died. An autopsy was slated for Thursday, but no results have been released.
Some witnesses apparently took cellphone video of the incident but deputies moved quickly to seize the phones. The Sheriff’s Office, after releasing a statement Wednesday and naming its officers Thursday, declined all further comment.
People who say they witnessed the incident as well as Silva’s family members described a scene in which deputies essentially were beating a helpless man to death. They were indignant that cellphone video had been taken away by deputies.
“My brother spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading, begging for his life,” said Christopher Silva, 31, brother of the dead man. He said he’s talked to witnesses but did not see the incident himself.
At about midnight, Ruben Ceballos, 19,was awakened by screams and loud banging noises outside his home. He said he ran to the left side of his house to find out who was causing the ruckus.
“When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head,” Ceballos said.
Silva was on the ground screaming for help, but officers continued to beat him, Ceballos said.
After several minutes, Ceballos said, Silva stopped screaming and was no longer responsive.
“His body was just lying on the street and before the ambulance arrived one of the officers performed CPR on him and another one used a flashlight on his eyes but I’m sure he was already dead,” Ceballos said.
Other relatives demanded to know more.
David Silva’s mother, Merri Silva, 54, said, “If I don’t do anything about my son’s death then it will just be pushed to the side and I don’t want this to happen to another person.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said a KMC security officer called deputies at about 11:55 p.m. Tuesday to report that there was a man in the area who was possibly intoxicated. A deputy with a canine found Silva at the southeast corner of the intersection and contacted him. It was then that Silva resisted and fought the deputy while the deputy tried to take him into custody, Pruitt said. More deputies and two California High Patrol officers arrived to help, Pruitt said.
Asked to respond to the family and witness allegations, Pruitt said no one from the Sheriff’s Office will comment or release information regarding the case until the investigation is over.
The office did identify the officers involved in the arrest as Sgt. Douglas Sword and deputies Ryan Greer, Tanner Miller, Jeffrey Kelly, Luis Almanza, Brian Brock and David Stephens.
The CHP hasn’t released the names of its officers at the scene.
On Thursday afternoon, Christopher Silva said the family had not yet been able to see his brother’s body, but had learned about different witnesses who had taken video footage of the incident.
“The true evidence is in those phones witnesses have that apparently the sheriff deputies already took,” Silva said. “But I know the truth will come out and my brother’s voice will be heard.”
John Tello, a criminal law attorney, is representing two witnesses who took video footage and five other witnesses to the incident. He said his clients are still shaken by what they saw.
“When I arrived to the home of one of the witnesses that had video footage, she was with her family sitting down on the couch, surrounded by three deputies,” Tello said.
Tello said the witness was not allowed to go anywhere with her phone and was being quarantined inside her home.
When Tello tried to talk to the witness in private and with the phone, one of the deputies stopped him and told him he couldn’t take the phone anywhere because it was evidence to the investigation, the attorney said.
“This was not a crime scene where the evidence was going to be destroyed,” Tello said. “These were concerned citizens who were basically doing a civic duty of preserving the evidence, not destroying it as they (sheriff deputies) tried to make it seem.”
A search warrant wasn’t presented to either of the witnesses until after Tello arrived, he said, adding that one phone was seized before the warrant was produced.
Tello said the phone of the first witness was taken after the deputies told him he was either going to give up the phone the easy way or the hard way.
“They basically told him they were either going to keep him at this house all night until they could find a judge to sign a search warrant or he could just turn over his phone,” he said.
The witness gave up his phone two hours before he had to get to work and was told by deputies that he could collect his phone the next day after they had extracted the evidence they needed, Tello said.
However, the witness never got his phone back, Tello said, and was told it could take years before he does because the investigation could take a long time.
“My main concern is that these witnesses are not harassed by deputies because this case can make others who see crimes happening not want to speak up because of the way law enforcement handles situations,” Tello said.
Local defense attorney Kyle J. Humphrey said, generally speaking, he believes law enforcement can seize cellphones or cameras at the scene under the theory that they’ve captured evidence of a crime. Because of the digital nature of the evidence, they could argue that it’s urgent they immediately take the cameras.
“It’s one of those murky areas that’s come about by the existence of modern technology,” said Humphrey, who is not involved in this case.
He said he thinks law enforcement officers would first ask for the person to voluntarily hand over the evidence, but they could just seize it and hold it until they get a court order to search it.
Silva left behind four children, ranging from ages 2 to 10 years old. As of Thursday afternoon, his mother said, they hadn’t figured out how to tell the children their father is dead. Merri Silva remembers her son as a happy person who loved his kids.
“We’re all hurt and it’s not something that I can comprehend and in part (it’s) because I feel that it still hasn’t hit me that he is gone,” the mother said.