A California man whose death after a scuffle with police sparked a community outcry actually died of heart disease, not from the officers’ blows, police said Friday.
The confrontation between police and David Sal Silva, 33, was captured by cell phone video. The grainy videos show officers using police batons to subdue Silva.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said that after an autopsy, Silva’s death had been ruled accidental by a pathologist, and the primary cause listed was hypertensive heart disease. The coroner also found alcohol and methamphetamines in Silva's system, Youngblood said.
The sheriff announced the results at a news conference where he defended deputies and criticized the way news outlets have handled the case that has received attention both because of Silva's death and the confiscation of cell phone video shot by witnesses.
"The media, in my opinion, raced to be first, didn't race to be right," Youngblood said. "The way this was handled in the media sent shockwaves all across the United States."
Youngblood said deputies followed policy and never hit Silva in the head or neck, and the autopsy showed the blows to his midsection were not fatal. The report said a bruise on his face was from falling to the ground.
Silva family attorney David Cohn said he was skeptical of the conclusions.
"They're trying to say he died of natural causes," Cohn told the Bakersfield Californian newspaper. "Who would believe that?"
Youngblood gave a detailed account of the May 8 confrontation, saying a deputy answered a report of an intoxicated man, found Silva, and failed several times to lift him to his feet.
He said Silva began to struggle, so the deputy released his police dog, which bit Silva and the deputy, spurring Silva to attack the dog and grab it by the throat.
Two more deputies arrived in the minutes that followed and the three used batons to try to get control of Silva, who increasingly fought, bucked and violently resisted, according to Youngblood.
Two other deputies arrived but did not use their batons. A pair of California Highway Patrol officers arrived and eventually used a hobble to control Silva's legs.
Witnesses have said Silva begged for his life and was repeatedly hit in the head.
Youngblood said their credibility should be in doubt because "it's pretty clear we had a group of witnesses out there that didn't like law enforcement from the beginning."
The FBI was conducting its own investigation of the incident at Youngblood's request.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.