Man dies after struggle with Kern County deputies, CHP officers

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A man has died following a reported struggle with authorities.

Kern County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ray Pruitt said they got a call late Tuesday night about a man intoxicated and lying in a grassy area near Kern Medical Center. The first-responding officer was a deputy from a K-9 unit.

"As the deputy was contacting the individual, the person became uncooperative and a confrontation ensued between the deputy and the suspect," Pruitt said. "At one point the deputy deployed the K9, and a fight ensued between the deputy, the suspect and the K9."

The suspect was later identified by the Kern County Coroner's department as 33-year-old David Sal Silva. Their report states he was involved in an incident with law enforcement, became unresponsive, was taken to KMC where he later died at 12:44 a.m.

Several people told Eyewitness News they were about a block away, and saw the incident at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive.

"I watched a man deliberately murdered in my face," one man said. He didn't want to be identified. "I see an officer and the K9 dog, with a man detained on the ground, and the man was screaming for help."

A man who only wanted to give his first name, said he lives near the corner where the incident happened, and he also saw it. "There were at least two of them using their batons on him," Danny told Eyewitness News. "They were just sitting on him. And the guys. they were holding him down and punching him, too."

Pruitt said when the first officer couldn't restrain Silva, four more deputies arrived to assist. But, the suspect continued to resist the officers.

"He wasn't resisting," the one witness told Eyewitness News. "He was begging for help, and begging for his life -- if you asked me."

That witness and friends with him, say they saw officers hitting the suspect all over his body. The friend says he heard the blows from the first deputy on the scene. "He just started hitting him with his baton hard," the other man said. "I can hear it as it hits the street, because it echos down the street."

One family said they were just leaving Kern Medical Center across the street from the confrontation, and they got cell phone video of the incident. However, by mid-morning sheriff deputies were at their home to seize the video.

The family called attorney John Tello, and he told Eyewitness News one cell phone was seized after officers got a search warrant. But, Tello says one family member gave up his cell phone before that, because he had to go to work.

Tello said the family told officers what they had seen. He said deputies on the scene had spotted the family getting the cell phone video. The attorney advised the family not to make any statements.

The family told Eyewitness News their nine-year-old son was traumatized by seeing the confrontation, and he didn't want to go to school on Wednesday.

Pruitt said seizing video is "standard" in a situation like this.

The other men who saw the incident reported the woman with them was also very upset, and crying as it happened.

One of these men said he's heard some people in the neighborhood think they know the suspect. "They say he's a cool person," the witness said. "He walks around, goes to the store to get a beer in the morning."

A check of the Kern County Court website shows two cases that appear to be for Silva. One in 2008 includes alcohol-related charges, as well as battery and assault. Those charges were dismissed, and he plead no contest to disturbing the peace.

A case from 2010 is a charge of drunk and disorderly, which was dismissed.

Sheriff officers say two California Highway Patrol officers also responded, and officers were eventually able to restrain Silva. Pruitt told Eyewitness News the confrontation lasted eight minutes.

Pruitt said an ambulance was called, and at some point Silva seemed to have trouble breathing.

Danny said it appeared the ambulance crew immediately started trying to resuscitate the suspect. He agreed the entire confrontation was probably only a few minutes long.

"Toward the beginning, (the suspect) was screaming a lot, fighting, yelling back and such," Danny said. "But toward the end, he kind of got a little bit quieter."

Pruitt said the deputies involved in the incident will stay on duty during an investigation, and those officers were being interviewed. The spokesman said deputies used only batons during the confrontation.

"We're still trying to obtain information as to exactly how the suspect was taken into custody," Pruitt said. "But we do know that the suspect resisted the initial deputy, that K9 deputy who attempted to contact him and take him into custody, and continued to resist."

"From what we saw, I would have to say that it did seem like it was a bit (of) excessive force used." Danny said. The neighbor says he was about 30 feet away, and saw the position of the suspect on the ground, the use of batons, and the number of officers.

"It just seemed unlikely he was much of a threat," he said.

The Coroner's Department reports an autopsy is planned for Thursday to determine the cause and manner of death.

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