$3.4 million settlement reached in 2013 David Silva arrest death

David Sal Silva is seen in an undated photo provided to Eyewitness News. Attorneys for his family announced Wednesday, May 4, 2016, that they have reached a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

A settlement has been reached in the wrongful death civil case involving David Sal Silva.

Law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles said Wednesday night that it had reached a $3.4 million settlement on behalf of Silva's family.

Kern County deputies were accused of using unreasonable force in Silva's May 2013 arrest, allegedly contributing to his death.

The coroner's office ruled Silva's death was accidental due to hypertensive heart disease. Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green determined in 2014 that no criminal wrongdoing had taken place by deputies, and the U.S. Attorney's Office found "there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a federal criminal prosecution, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Still, Silva's family and their attorneys claimed this was a case of "police brutality."

"This $3.4 million dollars should say something yet the sheriff of this town is still in denial," said David Silva's brother, Christopher Silva. "That's the saddest part, because we know what follows. We know more people will be victimized."

May 7 will be the three-year anniversary of Silva's death. The following day will be an empty Mother's Day for Merrie Silva.

"I'm going to be minus one son," she said. "Remember that."

In a news release Wednesday night, Chain | Cohn | Stiles wrote, "Silva screamed to bystanders for help, and bystanders called 9-1-1 in an effort to stop the beating. For as long as 10 minutes, while Silva struggled to lift his chest off the ground, Kern County deputies pressed down - a deadly loop that lead inexorably to Silva's death by asphyxiation."

"They put a spit mask on his face," said attorney Neil Gehlawat. "When he vomited in the spit mask they refused to take the spit mask off knowing well that people can die when they choke on their own vomit."

Sheriff Donny Youngblood is also the Kern County Coroner. Some argue that his role in overseeing autopsies and policing is a conflict of interest, especially in cases like these.

"They can remove coroner from my title tomorrow," he said. "I've attempted to do it. I don't really care."

Youngblood was initially named in the lawsuit.

"This settlement represents for the Kern County Sheriff's Office a richly-deserved black eye," civil rights attorney Thomas Seabaugh said Thursday morning. "This was more than about how they killed David Silva, it was also about how they tried to cover up what happened."

The attorneys say they found the truth about what happened, during their investigation in the last three years. They took depositions from the officers involved, as well as what they called "top brass" in the Sheriff's Department.

"David was unarmed," said Gehlawat, citing the officers' depositions. "He was asleep. He never punched an officer. He never kicked an officer. He never made a verbal threat to an officer."

"We said, 'Did you make a determination as to whether or not Sgt. (Douglas) Sword's actions were within policy?'" said Gehlawat, adding the officer's response was there was no decision reached. "We didn't make a decision with respect to whether any of these officers' actions were within policy." Gehlawat says they were told.

Youngblood disputes that, saying he made that clear publicly.

"Ultimately I ruled that they were within the law on camera," Youngblood said.

The sheriff also disputes the attorneys' charges that the pathologist was not told about the circumstances during the incident with Silva. Youngblood says he doesn't know what the pathologist did or didn't know about that. Youngblood adds he never talked to the pathologist, not wanting to taint that independent review.

The confrontation between 33-year-old Silva, seven deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers took place across the street from Kern Medical.

The sheriff's department reported a deputy was called to Flower Street and Palm Drive on reports of a possibly intoxicated man.

The family's attorneys claim Silva fell asleep on a sidewalk after trying to get treatment in the emergency room and a nearby mental health facility.

The confrontation lasted eight minutes and was recorded by witnesses on cellphone video, sparking a controversy. The witnesses claimed they saw deputies using batons and beating Silva while he was on the ground, and unleashing a sheriff's department K-9 that bit Silva several times.

The sheriff's department handling of the witnesses also fueled controversy. Deputies went to the homes of the witnesses later that night and confiscated their cellphones. Some of the witnesses took legal action against the sheriff's department, alleging deputies took property that did not belong to them.

The sheriff's department claimed it was preserving evidence and obtained a search warrant to take the cellphones, but family members said they were held against their will in their home by deputies who would not allow them to leave with their phones.

The wrongful death case was about to go to trial in Federal court in Fresno when the settlement was reached.

Gehlawat said some of the amount comes from the state because the two CHP officers were on the scene. He also says some of the funds will go to Silva's girlfriend who was represented by attorney Daniel Rodriguez.

Sheriff Youngblood said while the county decided to settle, he did not favor it. And, insists it's not a sign of wrong-doing by his department.

"The officers did what the law required them to do," Youngblood said. "The officers did good work, they are still working here, and they're all still good employees."

But attorney David Cohn sees the opposite result.

"I think you have to conclude that if the county is willing to pay these victims $3.4 million dollars, it's very clear that there was wrong-doing on the part of the county."

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