The Latest on the In-Custody Death of David Sal Silva

Jul 21, 2013
10:29 AM

Almost three months have passed since the in-custody death of David Sal Silva in Bakersfield occurred, and key questions still remain about how Silva died and whether deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s office were responsible for it.


This weekend The Bakersfield Californian published two articles with updates about the case. In one article, there was mention that “three high-profile lawsuits” are “expected to be filed this month.” The story continued:

The use of the hogtie restraint by law enforcement has been controversial for at least two decades. So controversial — and dangerous, say critics — that some police agencies, including the Bakersfield Police Department, have banned it entirely.

Participants in the struggle were Silva, seven sheriff’s officers, two California Highway Patrol officers and a police dog. Silva was not armed.

The witnesses told The Californian and other news organizations that deputies not only hogtied Silva, but also lifted him and dropped him twice.

“The witnesses told me there was no question in their minds from where they were standing that they saw Mr. Silva hogtied,” said Daniel Rodriguez, the Bakersfield attorney representing Silva’s four children and their mother in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Attorney David Cohn, who is representing Silva’s mother, father and brother, also said the manner by which Silva was restrained may have played a role in Silva’s death by causing “positional asphyxiation” — oxygen starvation that occurred when the stressed, distraught and overweight Silva was restrained by deputies in a prone position against the concrete.

At the moment, says Cohn, there are more questions than answers.

Neither attorney has been provided access to investigative reports from the sheriff’s office or the CHP. Will those reports square with witnesses who said Silva’s wrists were bound to his legs? If so, was Silva face-down for a period of time?

If Silva was not bound wrist to legs, exactly how was he restrained? Was his breathing compromised by the weight of deputies pressing on his back? Was Silva so sick with heart problems he likely would have died anyway, absent the struggle with nine peace officers?

These and other questions are central to the lawsuits, which could put Kern County taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.

A second article raised issues about inconsistencies in the coroner’s report, which was produced by the office of Coroner Donny Youngblood, also the Kern County Sheriff. One inconsistency has to do with whether Silva was hobbled or not, while the other one had to do with when were the leg restraints removed from Silva–at the scene of the arrest or at the hospital? The story asked:

While the report indicated that all restraints were removed at the scene, it appears that not one, but two leg restraints were at the foot of Silva’s hospital bed. At least one of them apparently had been cut.

Did medical personnel have to cut or otherwise remove the restraints from Silva’s legs at the hospital? How many restraints and what type were used on Silva? If all restraints were removed at the scene, as the coroner’s report indicated, why were they at the foot of Silva’s hospital bed following his death?

The sheriff and Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner declined to address these questions.