This afternoon in Bakersfield, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood held a press conference to say that the in-custody death of David Sal Silva on May 8 was ruled accidental and that Silva’s cause of death was “hypertensive heart disease, acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, severe abdominal obseity, chronic hypertension and acute pulmonary caridovascular strain.” Sheriff Youngblood also took the time to call the media attention to the Silva case “shameful.”
The Silva case gained national attention after a video became public allegedly showing Kern County and California Highway Patrol officers repeatedly beating Silva with batons. Another grainy security video showed figures on top of a man on the ground:
The case also included a chilling 911 call of a person who claimed to have filmed the entire incident:
Earlier in the case, Youngblood did say that baton strikes were used that night, although he was quick to downplay it.
Today, Youngblood made sure to also criticize the media for overreacting:
“The media, in my opinion, raced to be first, but didn’t race to be right,” Youngblood said. “And I think that the media caused a lot of this hysteria that occurred in this community. This type of incident is not uncommon in law enforcement across this country. This particular case and the way that it was handled in the media sent shock waves all the way across the United States. Every law enforcement officer in this country was in question. As I said in the beginning, if you would wait and be patient, I would give you the facts as I know them, and that’s what I am doing today.”
According to Youngblood, the deputies who were on the scene with Silva will return to duty, since they have been cleared of their actions.
Here is a full video of the press conference. It is about 20 minutes long.
After the sheriff’s statement, the conference got tense. At one point, a reporter asked if Youngblood knew whether an officer used social media to text about the Silva incident. Youngblood did not say whether he would investigate.
Youngblood also said that one of his deputies called “this most violent resisting arrest he has seen in 12-and-a-half years.”
When asked about a missing cell phone video of the incident, Youngblood said that he had no details about that. Youngblood also admitted that his officers spent close to five hours with witnesses in their efforts to seize the evidence on the phones. He also said the witnesses were always free to leave their homes.
“Anyone there was free to leave at any time. No one was held hostage. [One of the witnesses] just couldn’t take the phone that had the evidence. Once he gave the phone and were in the process of getting a search warrant, he left. The second [phone], we obtained a search warrant, we waited two hours and 11 minutes to get that search warrant and to seize that phone.”
He later added, “The courts will rule whether we acted correctly or not, I’m not sure.”
When a reporter asked if police told the witnesses to not put the cell phone videos on social media networks, Youngblood was quick to say that the officers were just asking if the witnesses had placed these videos on these networks. He said that “there was direction that they could not” post the videos on social sites.
He continued, “If you take a look at the witness statements in this case and then looked at the evidence, it’s pretty clear that we had a group of witnesses out there that didn’t like law enforcement from the beginning. And if you look at the statements that they made, the number of baton strikes to the head that didn’t exist by eyewitnesses… and it goes one and one. You know, I think the public is going to judge us by the facts. I think the public is going to judge us by the evidence, not by propaganda.”
Here is an excerpt of what a local Bakersfield television station reported:
[Youngblood] said that, contrary to claims by people who said they saw the incident, the post-mortem proves no deputy struck Silva on the head with a baton. He said an abrasion on Silva’s head was caused by falling down.
Youngblood said Silva had a blood alcohol level of 0.095 and had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his blood and other drugs in his pocket.
He said Silva was “hobbled” at the time his heart stopped. That means his hands were tied together behind his back, his feet were tied together, and the tied hands were bound to the tied feet.
Two of the witnesses who say they saw the event say they videotaped it on their cell phones. One called 911 and said she was sending the video to the news media. Before she could, deputies arrived at her home and held her until a search warrant arrived, allowing deputies to seize the two phones. When the phones were returned, one had no video.
Youngblood sent the phone to the FBI to try to determine if the phone ever had video. Those tests are pending.
At Thursday’s news conference, Youngblood said seizing the phones was necessary to preserve evidence.