What We Know and What We Don’t Know About the Death of David Sal Silva

May 19, 2013
11:47 AM

With reports that new developments surrounding the in-custody death of David Sal Silva on May 8 in Bakersfield will possibly be made public next week, we wanted to take a moment today and summarize what we know so far about Silva’s death and what we don’t know. It has been a fast-moving and developing story, one that is beginning to gain national attention.


We will first refer to a online piece published last night by The Bakersfield Californian. The newspaper’s executive editor, John Arthur, took the time to answer some questions from readers about the case and clarify some information

* The cause of death of David Sal Silva has yet to be determined. The results of the autopsy have not been determined, the coroner (who reports to the sheriff) says, and have not been revealed.

* Thus we don’t know if Silva had alcohol or other substances in his system.

* It’s not a “beating death.” It’s a “death in custody.”

* Aside from “resisting arrest,” according to the Sheriff, we don’t know how Silva behaved when approached by officers.

* We know from the first and only surveillance video released that baton blows were struck. We don’t know how many and for how long or where on his body they landed.

* According to the sheriff, Silva stopped breathing and was administered CPR.

* If there were
two videos and one disappeared, we don’t know how or when that happened.

The Californian has sought many pieces of information from these agencies. No answers have been forthcoming.

In public records requests, we asked for tapes of any other 911 calls and dispatch/radio communications related to the Silva incident. We also requested any audio or video recordings agencies may have of the incident.

A Kern County lawyer replied:

“Since this involves an investigation regarding an individual who died, it is a homicide investigation. Records gathered as part of the investigation are records of an investigation conducted by a local police agency. As such, they are exempt from disclosure under Government Code 6254(f)…. As to the 911 tape, I do not believe there are any others. The one that was released was released, as I understand it, prior to my response being made to (your reporter) and without my knowledge.”

The facts of the story are thus necessarily limited. The politics are not. Nor are the comments and the public reaction to what has happened. We of course will continue to cover those elements as well.

We also know that the witnesses who took the cell phones now have a new lawyer who specializes in civil rights cases and that an analysis of the cell phones and the videos that were taken from those phones (including the one that possibly no longer exists) will be completed late Monday or early Tuesday. There is no indication that the video or videos in question will be shared with the public.

In the meantime, after a very public press conference earlier this week, Silva family lawyer David Cohn has said very little. We also know that the FBI has not released any information about their investigation, and that the California Highway Patrol has yet to publicly release any information about the case.


Finally, the Californian’s Robert Price wrote a very powerful opinion piece this weekend about the case. Here is just a portion of what he wrote:

The witnesses who shot the video say they had checked before investigators arrived to make sure both confiscated phones did indeed contain video images, but Sheriff Donny Youngblood admitted a few days later that only one phone contained video evidence; the other did not.

If the witnesses are being truthful — and they didn’t accidentally erase the video themselves — we have to ask if Sheriff’s personnel really had the gall to knowingly destroy evidence that might incriminate deputies — and with an increasingly cynical public watching, no less, wondering if they would dare do so.

Given the possibility that someone in local law enforcement would willingly compromise an investigation in such a blatant and ham-handed fashion, is it fair to ask whether the coroner’s office — a division of the Sheriff’s Office — can be trusted to make an honest and impartial determination about cause of death, the victim’s toxicity and other relevant circumstances?

If Silva’s death were an isolated event, we might not feel this collective alarm. But the department’s recent track record seems like enough reason to withhold benefit of the doubt. Consider the case of Rodolfo Medrano, an amputee who couldn’t leave his wheelchair but was deemed so potentially threatening that, when he pulled a knife out of his waistband and started rolling toward deputies, they took him down. Or the case of David Lee Turner, who swung a bag containing two cans of beer in a deputy’s direction and paid with his life.

Then there are the nonfatal ethical lapses, too many to name here, from stealing cash from the wallets of drivers who’ve been pulled over, to allegedly subjecting a woman to a “deviant” strip search in her own home. Does the KCSO have a discipline problem? A training problem? Or is this a reflection of the candidate pool these days?

When Youngblood first ran for sheriff, he had tremendous support within the department. Now it seems fair to ask if an undercurrent of good-ol’-boy corruption has taken root so deeply that he’s helpless. The good, honest deputies who still represent the vast majority of the KCSO deserve better than this. So do the people they serve.