The sheriff’s department of a California county is under fire after several officers were involved in an altercation that led to the death of a local Latino man.
Allegations of brutality and cover-ups have been leveled against the Kern County Sheriff’s Department following a dispute between deputies and 33-year old David Sal Silva.
A grainy cellphone video recorded by a neighbor shows what is allegedly Kern County officers beating Silva with batons for what the department said was resisting arrest. The attack, which occurred last week, left the father of four dead and the Central Valley community in an uproar.
“The guy was lying on the floor and eight sheriffs ran up and started beating him up with sticks,” one woman said in a 911 call, according the Los Angeles Times. “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."
Following the incident, Kern County sheriffs briefly detained two people who had footage of the incident. While some people – including David Cohn, the lawyer for the Silva family – called it a “cover-up,” police said the information taken from the phone was used solely for the investigation and no information was deleted.
“If there is evidence of wrongdoing on our behalf, we need to know about it,” Kern County Sgt. Damon McMinn told Fox News Latino. “The videos were downloaded and handed back to the owners with all the information still intact.”
Cohn, the Silva family lawyer, said the phone’s owners were threatened by police, who told them they couldn’t leave their house until they gave up their phones. One of the owners waited for a warrant to arrive while the other voluntarily handed police his cell phone.
“The sheriff’s investigators found out about the videos and got hold of the owners at 3a.m.,” Cohn said. “They absolutely strong-armed these people into giving up their cellphones.”
The sheriff’s department released a statement saying that Silva was intoxicated and had resisted police efforts to restrain him, forcing deputies to use their batons. It is believed that six officers and a sergeant were on scene as well as two California Highway Patrolmen.
The altercation occurred in East Bakersfield, a residential neighborhood in the northeastern section of the Central Valley city.
The coroner’s office is awaiting toxicology results and microscopic studies to determine the exact cause of death. The results of these tests can take up to four months to come in.
Silva apparently left the home he shared with his girlfriend and children last Tuesday morning upset. After visiting his mother at her home, he went to Kern Medical Center to seek help for an unnamed type of emotional trouble.
He left the center after a security guard told him he could not sleep there. He apparently fell asleep in front of a house across the street, the spot where the deputies allegedly confronted him.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Department told Fox News Latino that it could not reveal the work status of the officers involved, but stressed that it is taking all the precautions necessary to investigate the case.
Cohn, however, said that all the officers are still on patrol and that none of the offending officers have officially been put on leave or reprimanded.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Department has had a history of police brutality and touchy relations with the community. The 2005 death of a jail inmate led to criminal convictions of three deputies and a $6-million civil judgment. The 2010 death of a man who was struck with a baton 33 times and zapped with a Taser 29 times led to a $4.5 million court award for his family.
“It’s a culture of physical force first and asking questions later,” Cohn said. “They’d don’t try to reason with people.”
Silva’s family could not be reached for comment but Cohn said that they are mourning Silva’s death and confused about what led to it.
“They are extremely upset,” he said. “They are worried that the evidence will be compromised.”