Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Strike First, Ask Questions Later

I'll just start this one off by saying that  some things never change.

The sharp cracks echoing from the East Bakersfield street were loud enough to jolt Ruben Ceballos from a midnight slumber. Then he heard screams.

The 19-year-old jumped from his living room sofa and hurried to the kitchen door, which offered a view of the violent scene outside, Kern County sheriff's deputies repeatedly striking a man in the head with batons as he lay on the pavement begging for his life.

"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."

The man was David Sal Silva, 33, a father of four, and he was pronounced dead less than an hour later. The altercation last week was videotaped by witnesses and has sent the Central Valley into turmoil.

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.

To say that this is an unusual move is an extreme understatement. These officers basically took innocent citizens into custody and held them hostage in their own homes as if they lived in a military state.

"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?' "

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said in an interview Monday that it was too early in the investigation to reach any conclusions about Silva's death. But he defended the decision to take custody of the phones as a way of preserving possible evidence. The sheriff said his office obtained a search warrant for the phones.

"We still have to secure the evidence, especially when the evidence can tell us whether we did it right or wrong," Youngblood said.

A gang of cops mercilessly beating a man to death is murder, so, yes Sheriff, you did it wrong! What reasonable human being needs to watch footage to figure that out?! 

He said his agency, to remove the appearance of any conflict, has asked the Bakersfield Police Department to analyze the phone videos.

The local news in Bakersfield broadcast a security camera video from the scene showing grainy images of figures pummeling someone on the ground, with about 20 swings of what appear to be batons or sticks. It's difficult to see Silva in the seven minute video or how many of those swings connected.

This makes me nervous. The Rodney King video was crystal clear, and those Police Officer got away with beating him to within an inch of his life.

An earlier statement by the Sheriff's Office said Silva might have been intoxicated and resisted the deputies' efforts to restrain him, forcing them to use their batons. It said six deputies, a sergeant and two California Highway Patrol officers were at the scene. One deputy had a K-9 dog.

Silva stopped breathing and was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:44 a.m. Wednesday, the statement said. Youngblood said it could take the coroner's office up to four months to complete toxicology tests and determine a cause of death.

In an email to The Times on Monday, the CHP said it "is deeply sympathetic" to the Silva family and "takes seriously all incidents where an individual dies while in custody." The agency said it could not discuss the matter further because of the investigation.

The Silva episode follows several high-profile brutality cases involving the Kern County Sheriff's Office in recent years.

One led to criminal convictions of three deputies and a $6-million civil judgment in the 2005 death of a jail inmate, according to attorneys. Another resulted in a $4.5-million court award for the family of a man who died in 2010 after being struck 33 times with batons and Tasered 29 times, attorneys said.

A deputy accused in the civil lawsuit over the 2010 death has the same name as one of those who confronted Silva. Youngblood would not confirm that it was the same deputy, however.

According to Cohn, Silva became upset Tuesday morning and abruptly left the home he shared with his girlfriend and their children. He later visited his mother's house before turning up at Kern Medical Center seeking help for some sort of emotional trouble. He left the hospital when a security officer told him he could not sleep there, Cohn said.

Silva fell asleep in front of a house across the street, the spot where the deputies confronted him, the attorney said. He said he did not know if Silva had been drinking. Court databases show that Silva pleaded no contest in 2008 to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace. He was charged with being drunk and disorderly two years later, but the case was dismissed.

So it begins. The inevitable attempt to tarnish the name of the victim. Having a criminal record does not mean that his life is less valuable than someone else's. Silvia's past doesn't matter. The fact that he was savagely beaten and murdered does.

Cohn also represented the son of the inmate killed in 2005, an offshore oil field worker who was arrested after behaving erratically. "They don't seem to have any training when it comes to people with a mental illness," Cohn said of the Sheriff's Office "There seems to be a culture of striking first and asking questions later." 

It seems inevitable to me that Deputy's involved in this murder are going to face prosecution. But if and only if their is a through investigation from an outside agency. The fact that they actually went so far as to detain residents in their own homes even though they were not guilty of anything and seize their personal property shows a flagrant attempt to cover up evidence. If they were smart they would have acted as if they didn't do anything wrong, ignorance on behalf of law enforcement always seems to works  best in these cases. Unfortunately the consequences are always deadly.


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