A California father of four died after being beaten by police outside of a Bakersfield hospital, while witnesses say he begged for his life. A couple witnesses filmed the gruesome scene, but say they were later forced to give their cellphones to authorities and have yet to receive their devices back.
The Bakersfield Californian reported 33-year-old David Sal Silva died early Wednesday morning in the hospital after he was struck an unknown amount of times by nine authorities seeking to subdue him. Silva was considered possibly intoxicated and an autopsy is expected to reveal if he was killed by injuries sustained in the beating or other complications.
Police and county sheriffs were responding to a call regarding a possibly intoxicated man outside Kern Medical Center Tuesday night and say Silva resisted them.
The 911 call of witness Sulina Quair records her telling the operator that she witnessed the officers “beating him up with sticks.” In the call, Quair says she taped the entire ordeal and that she planned on “sending it to the news.”
“These cops have no reason to do this to this man,” Quair said, witnessing the incident as she was leaving the hospital after visiting a relative.
Listen to the 911 recording in this KERO-TV video:
A nearby security camera, according to KERO-TV, picked up grainy footage of the incident showing Silva lying on the ground while someone appears to walk up to him, tries to pick him up and then hits him with a baton:
Here’s the raw footage:
Silva’s brother, Christopher, said he has spoken with other witnesses and he believes his brother “spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading, begging for his life.”
Witness Ruben Ceballos ran outside when he heard commotion around midnight, the Bakersfield Californian reported.
“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, noting that he could hear Silva screaming for help.
A few days after the gruesome event, Quair said the scene still haunts her.
“I sit there and I can still hear him choking in his own blood, trying to gasp for air,” she said Friday.
Quair also, at the operator’s request, gave gave her phone number in case more information was needed.
Soon thereafter though that Quair said authorities seized the phones of her mother, Maria Melendez, and boyfriend, whose name was not released, which were used to take video of the events. Here’s more regarding the seizure of the phones from the Bakersfield Californian:
“We had stopped by Taco Bell to get something to eat, and we were eating and at about 3 a.m. two detectives showed up, barged in without my permission and demanded to see my boyfriend for his phone,” Melissa said.
She said she and her boyfriend were essentially kept captive inside their own home until they released their phones.
As was reported earlier, the boyfriend eventually gave up his phone without a search warrant being presented because he had to be at work at 8 a.m. and didn’t want to be late, she said.
“They lied to us and said that they would personally deliver the phone back to us the next day but when we called they said they were keeping the phone until the investigation was over,” she said.
Later in the morning, Melendez showed up at Melissa’s house and was immediately confronted by the same two detectives who told her she had to turn over her phone, she said.
Melendez said she wasn’t going to give up her phone without a search warrant and was then again told that the search warrant was on its way.
In the report, the sheriff’s office states it is currently unable to release the phones because they were taken with a warrant. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said after a judge orders the release of the phones, they plan to “share everything with the public, including the videos.”
Still, a debate regarding how the phones were taken has been fuming since. There is a growing debate about “citizen journalists” that stretches well beyond this incident. TheBlaze has recently reported about knowing one’s rights while filming law enforcement performing public duties — and also how to recover deleted pictures and video that might not be lost forever.
Attorney John Tello is representing the two witnesses whose phones were confiscated and told the Bakersfield Californian in a separate article Saturday that his clients were intimidated into giving up their phones.
“Officers have the right to freeze a scene, to not allow anybody to leave for a reasonable amount of time, until a search warrant arrives,” Tello said, noting this can happen when there is fear that evidence could be destroyed. “But this was different. This was not a crime scene. There was no sense that people were going to destroy evidence. These officers literally held them in that house for close to 10 hours against their will.”
Yaman Salahi, an attorney with the ACLU-Southern California, spoke to the Californian regarding the potential violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights.
“If police intended to prevent them from publishing the video … that’s an affront to their First Amendment rights,” he said.
Other attorneys worry over the amount of probing authorities could do with the cellphones while they’re in their possession, among other concerns for civil liberties:
Will investigators examine the witnesses’ call history, personal photos, email messages, or postings on social media?
“There’s nothing to stop them,” [a Bakersfield defense attorney not connected to the case, Arturo] Revelo said. “I’m not saying that it’s legal, but there are no safeguards.”
Local attorney Daniel Rodriguez said there’s nothing in the law preventing the sheriff’s department from returning the cellphones once they’ve downloaded information pertinent to the case.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What could the sheriff’s department possibly be hiding from us?'” Rodriguez said Friday.
Here’s a video of the Silva’s family sitting with attorney David Cohn:
As of Friday Sheriff Youngblood was asking the public for patience as they conducted their investigation into the situation. Family of Silva held a vigil Saturday.
“One of my biggest regrets in his entire life and in this entire situation is not telling him that I love him and this is what this is for, my ability to say I love you David. I love you more than anything in this life,” the victim’s father said, according to KERO-TV.
(H/T: Digital Journal via Reddit)