Witness with cellphone video says deputies heavy-handed in trying to seize it
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Still more questions have been raised about the death of a suspect in Kern County Sheriff's Office custody. A witness to the incident asked why he was arrested hours after talking to a reporter, and a family questioned the way their cellphone video of the incident was seized.
The suspect died after he reportedly fought with deputies at about midnight on Tuesday across from Kern Medical Center. On Thursday, the sheriff's department released the names of the officers involved, which they now say included seven deputies: Sgt. Douglas Sword, Deputy Ryan Greer, Deputy Tanner Miller, Deputy Jeffrey Kelly, Deputy Luis Almanza, Deputy Brian Brock and Deputy David Stephens.
A deputy was sent to the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive on reports of a possibly intoxicated man. The sheriff's department reports the suspect fought with the first deputy and the K-9, and continued fighting later with the other officers who responded. The department says the confrontation lasted eight minutes.
Melissa Quair tells Eyewitness News her family came out of KMC at about that time, and got cellphone video. Quair says a few hours later officers arrived at her family's home to get the video.
"We told them we weren't going to give them our phones," Quair said Wednesday. "And they told us that it was evidence, and pretty much my house was a crime scene because we had the evidence." The family called attorney John Tello.
The lawyer has questions about the officers' actions to take the cellphones. "There are protocols that they have to use before they can seize something," Tello said.
One of the family members had called 911 when they saw the scuffle, Tello said. He says based on that call, officers had the address of the family's home, and arrived there very early in the morning.
Quair says her friend had video on his phone, and Tello says the man came to the house to talk to the deputies. But, the man refused to turn over the phone unless officers had a search warrant. Tello said they waited for a long time, but the man needed to leave.
The attorney says the family reports officers convinced the man to hand over the phone, saying he could pick it up later at the sheriff's headquarters. Tello says the man went to the office, but was never able to get the phone back.
Meanwhile, the family said officers also wanted a phone belonging to Quair's mother. She came to the house, and also insisted there must be a search warrant. Tello says the warrant arrived at about noon. But, the family and Tello say officers wouldn't let anyone come in or out of the house while they waited for the warrant.
The family reports they felt pressured by the officers' demands. "They were pretty aggressive about it," Quair said. "They kept telling (the man with the phone), 'Either it's going to be the easy way or the hard way -- you're going to give us your phone one way or the other.'"
Tello said officers can demand evidence if they have probable cause, but he disputes how this was handled. "Holding a family in their home for ten to 12 hours, that to me is unreasonable," the attorney said.
On Thursday, Tello was also contacted by a man who saw the incident. Jason Land said he was arrested hours after doing an interview with Eyewitness News. Land said he had a panic attack, and had a friend take him to KMC. That's where officers responded, and arrested him on charges of being under the influence.
"I went to the main jail to contact the eyewitness," Tello said. The attorney says Land believes officers wanted to dispute his version of what he'd seen of the incident.
"They (the officers) told him, 'No, no -- you're wrong. Or you're mistaken,'" Tello related. "In other words, trying to cast doubt on his story." The attorney was not there when officers were talking to Land.
But, Tello says in his interviews with Land and members of the family with the cellphones -- all their accounts have independently been consistent about what they saw during the confrontation, and what officers did after that.
On Thursday, Eyewitness News made several requests for an interview with the sheriff's department. Spokesman Ray Pruitt responded, "At this point we aren't commenting any further while the investigation is ongoing."
The department has reported the officers deployed the K-9 and used batons, trying to restrain 33-year-old David Silva. The officers called for ambulance to treat him for injuries, but he started having trouble breathing at that point. Silva was taken to KMC, where he was pronounced dead.
Tello said he will keep investigating what happened.
The attorney said he's contacting the sheriff's department to demand that the phones are returned to his clients. Tello said he'll also contact the Highway Patrol to see if their officers who responded got any video from their squad cars. The attorney wants that preserved.
The attorney and the family with the cellphone video say they just want it available. "We just felt that maybe it was good for the victim's family to be able to have that," Melissa Quair said.
Tello thinks the video should be available, and disputes how it was seized. "The owners of these videos want to release them to the public," he said. "They want the public to see them."
The witness who ended up in jail was released Thursday afternoon, and the attorney also hoped to meet with him.