Family of man who died in custody gets lawyer

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The family of a man who died in sheriff's custody challenges the department to put out more information. David Silva, 33, died early Wednesday morning after a reported confrontation with Kern County Sheriff deputies. Sheriff Donny Youngblood says the investigation must establish the facts, before information and video can be released to the public.

Silva family attorney David Cohn has plenty of complaints about how things have been handled. "We are all here asking the same question, why did this happen?" Cohen said Friday morning. "What caused this to happen?"

Sheriff reports have stated a deputy and K-9 were first to respond just before midnight to Flower Street and Palm Drive to reports of a possibly intoxicated man lying on the grass. Officers say that was called in by a security guard from Kern Medical Center across the street.

As Eyewitness News first reported, a family happened to be coming out of the hospital, and two of them got cell phone video of the incident. The Silva family lawyer questions what sheriff officers did about that.

"If the sheriff's department doesn't have anything to hide, why aren't we being shown these videos?" Cohn said. "Why were they confiscated in a way that suggests a cover-up?"

The family with the cell phone video told Eyewitness News sheriff officials showed up at their home a few hours after the incident, and demanded the cell phones. The family says they weren't allowed to leave the house for hours while officers waited for a search warrant.

"The way the videos were acquired were just like any other case," Sheriff Youngblood countered. "We go to a judge, we get a search warrant."

But, Cohn sees it otherwise. "They used, what I'll mildly call strong arm tactics to obtain these cell phones," he asserts.

The family with the phones has retained attorney John Tello, and he tells Eyewitness News he has asked for the phones to be returned. Tello also questions why the video from the phones can't be shared with the public.

The Silva family attorney says the same. "If they are to maintain the public's trust, then the best way to maintain that trust is let us see the video," Cohn said. "Is the sheriff's department protecting themselves, because of something that they've done that the sheriff's department doesn't want us to see?"

Cohn asks if the Sheriff has something to hide.

"I don't think the majority of the public in Kern County thinks that we're hiding anything," Youngblood said. "I think they understand."

The sheriff said he hasn't seen the cell phone video of the incident yet. "Because I want to wait till the investigation is done," Youngblood said. "I want to read it, and so that I have a really good grasp of what occurred."

The sheriff's report early Wednesday said Silva fought with the first deputy, and continued to resist when the other officers arrived. The sheriff's department now reports they had seven officers on the scene, and there were two California Highway Patrol officers who responded to assist.

The officers deployed the first officer's canine and they used batons, attempting to take Silva into custody, according to the department. An ambulance was called after he was restrained, and at some point Silva had trouble breathing, they said. He was taken across the street to KMC, and pronounced dead there.

On Friday, the coroner's office released an autopsy report, but it says the "cause of death is pending toxicology and microscopic studies."

On Friday, Eyewitness News asked the Silva family if he had any underlying health problems. "I can tell you that David had high blood pressure," Cohn said. The attorney said he has confidence the final autopsy reports will provide an accurate account of the cause of death.

But, Cohn said he's doing an independent investigation of what happened, as much as he can. And, he's already sent letters to various government agencies. "We want to make sure these videos aren't destroyed, we want to make sure these videos aren't altered," he said.

Youngblood says the department investigation must be done to get the facts. "I realize the public is impatient in cases like this," he said. "I'm getting emails from places where if they had a rope, they would hang these officers." He stresses the investigation isn't done yet.

But, the Silva family attorney says the sheriff's department has promised transparency, and he wants more information on the incident now.

"Our community and this grieving family are entitled to know the truth," Cohn said. "And I say to the sheriff's department -- what do you have to hide?"