It’s beginning to look like Kern County sheriff deputies not only confiscated phones from witnesses who recorded them beating a man to death last week.
It appears they also deleted footage from one of the phones.
But rather than circle the wagons as we normally see in these situations, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood has brought the FBI in to investigate.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
BAKERSFIELD — The FBI launched an investigation Tuesday into the death of a man who was beaten by authorities amid questions over whether officials tampered with cellphone videos confiscated from witnesses.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he asked the FBI to get involved after learning that one of two phones seized from witnesses had no footage on it.
Two witnesses told The Times that they watched the videos on each of the phones last week in the wake of David Silva’s death. The case is generating widespread attention because several witnesses have come forward to say deputies ruthlessly beat Silva with batons on the head, even after he was motionless on the ground.
“Our credibility is at stake here,” Youngblood said in an interview. He did not dispute the witnesses’ accounts about the videos but said he would not draw any conclusions until the investigations were complete.
The FBI will also be investigating whether the sergeant and six deputies involved in the beating acted criminally in the beating death of 33-year-old David Sal Silva, a father of four, whose crime, at worse, may have been that he passed out drunk in front of somebody’s house after being refused care at a hospital across the street.
Several witness accounts indicate the deputies not only beat a non-resisting man to death, they tried their best to prevent citizens from recording.
“They must have gotten rid of one of the videos,” said Melissa Quair, 31, who told of seeing deputies pummel and kick Silva after confronting him across the street from Kern Medical Center in East Bakersfield. Quair and several relatives and friends were at the hospital because a family member had been in a car crash.
Quair said a phone video shot by her mother showed a deputy trying to block her view of the beating. “She went around him and told him, ‘I’m still recording,’ ” Quair said.
Laura Vasquez, 26, a friend of the Quair family, said she also watched both videos — the other shot by a friend of Melissa Quair — and they vividly depicted the violence she witnessed.
Echoing the account of two other people interviewed, Vasquez said the first two deputies at the scene woke Silva, who was sleeping in front of a house, and ordered him not to move. When Silva sat up, looking confused or scared, a deputy hit him in the head, Vasquez said.
“He fell back and then the other officer got out and swung toward his head,” she said. “Mr. Silva was reaching for his head and the officers said ‘stop moving’ and ‘stop resisting.’ He wasn’t resisting. … He rolled on his back and they kept hitting.”
More deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived at the location. Vasquez said the deputies hogtied Silva, lifted him off the ground and dropped him twice, and delivered more baton blows and kicks to his head and body until he went limp.
“He was screaming for help. He was laying on his chest. The cops were still on top of him, still hitting him. My family and I screamed at them to stop hitting him.… The blood was all over Mr. Silva’s face. We couldn’t even tell if he had eyes or a mouth.”
Vasquez said her girlfriend yelled, ” ‘Somebody call the cops,’ and everybody looked at her and said, ‘They ARE the cops.’ “
The California case is beginning to take on shades of the Kelly Thomas beating death in 2011, which occurred less than three hours south in Fullerton.
The notable difference being that Sheriff Youngblood appears to be striving for complete transparency in the investigation while Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers did his best to cover up Kelly’s murder, eventually being forced to resign.
Like in the Thomas case, a surveillance video camera captured part of the beating, which you can see below although it is dark and grainy.
But unlike the Thomas case, it was a camera from a residential house, so the owner wasted no time in giving the footage to Silva’s family members while in the Thomas case, it took more than a year for the city surveillance video to go public.
Despite the attempted coverup in the Thomas case, three Fullerton police officers were indicted on manslaughter and murder charges and are scheduled to go on trial this summer.
So it doesn’t look good for the six deputies and one sergeant involved in this death, whose names Youngblood released last week and have said to be receiving tons negative emails, including death threats.
At least two California Highway Patrol may have participated in the beating, but their names have not been released.
But it was the Kern County deputies who detained two witnesses, confiscating one camera without a warrant and refusing to let the other witness out of their sight until they obtained a warrant.
According to a prior Los Angeles Times story:
“I saw two sheriff’s deputies on top of this guy, just beating him,” Ceballos said in an interview Monday. “He was screaming in pain … asking for help. He was incapable of fighting back — he was outnumbered, on the ground. They just beat him up.”
One woman frantically called 911, telling the operator: “The guy was laying on the floor and eight sheriffs ran up and started beating him up with sticks. The man is dead laying right here, right now. I got it all on video camera and I’m sending it to the news. These cops have no reason to do this to this man.”
In an unusual move, sheriff’s officials later detained for several hours two witnesses who had videotaped the incident on their phones. They were released only after they surrendered their phones to deputies.
“It makes it look like a coverup,” said David Cohn, a lawyer for Silva’s children and parents, adding that he has not been able to see the footage. “What we’re all concerned about is, ‘Are these videos going to be altered? Are they going to be deleted?’ “
Obviously, the answer appears to be yes, the video was deleted. Now the question is, will criminal charges be filed against the deputies who deleted the footage?
It wasn’t too long ago that the thought of this would be inconceivable, which was why so many cops in this country act as if they could get away with it, including the Miami-Dade and Miami Beach cops in my last two arrests. Never mind the fact that it did them no good considering I was able to recover the footage both times as I explained in this recent Blaze article.
But earlier this month, a Nebraska prosecutor filed felony evidence tampering charges against two cops who stole a citizen’s memory card and threw it away to prevent evidence of police abuse from leaking out.
And if it can happen in a state like Nebraska, never known for its precedence, then it could surely happen in California.
UPDATE: Here is a pretty candid press conference with Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
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UPDATE II: Here is a Google Chat I did with Radley Balko and the attorney for the Silva family tonight on Huffpost Live. The lawyer mentioned that there is probably additional video from the CHP cars as well as audio recordings from the CHP body-worn recorders.
Body-worn recorders became a huge piece of evidence during the Fullerton investigation.