Kern County counsel defends deputies involved with expensive wrongful death lawsuit

Mark Nations tells Eyewitness News that the $3.4 million settlement given to David Silva's family does not mean any sheriff's deputies were responsible for his death. (KBAK/ KBFX photo/ Javier Posadas)

Usually when two sides agree to settle a civil lawsuit, technically there are no winners and there are no losers -- there's just a lot of money switching hands.

This time, $3.4 million later, the family of David Silva feels like they've gotten some justice, but not all of it.

It has been three years since Silva died after a confrontation with nine officers. Seven of them were deputies with the Kern County Sheriff's Office. Two of them were California Highway Patrol officers.

None of them have ever been criminally charged, and they won't have to pay a dime out of their own pocketbooks.

"Those deputies and the officers involved in that incident killed David Silva," said Neil Gehlawat, an attorney for Silva's family. "A bittersweet end to a long journey to achieving justice."

Sheriff Donny Youngblood still refuses to admit any wrongdoing in the case, and he told Eyewitness News on Thursday that he didn't want the county to settle.

Attorneys for the county thought it was possible they could lose the case.

"Oh yeah, sure. We recognize that," laughed Mark Nations, who represented the county. "If you've ever watched a jury deliberate you realize, man -- anything can happen."

Ultimately the insurance company decided they didn't want to "gamble" with this case, said Nations.

"It's never an admission of guilt," he said. "We thought we had a pretty good chance, probably 50-50 or better of winning, but that's just a guess."

Nations told Eyewitness News that Kern County taxpayers will pay for $2 million in the settlement.

He said he didn't like the way attorneys on the other side of the lawsuit gloated over the "win."

"I don't know. I thought it was a cheap shot," said Nations. "They come down here and rub everybody's nose in it. I think that's low class."

Nations went on to assert that it was Silva's fault for resisting arrest, even as the plaintiffs insist that officers involved in the incident swore under oath that Silva never punched an officer, kicked an officer, or made any verbal threats toward an officer.

"He died because of massive heart failure," said Nations. "That's why he died."

Attorneys for the Silva family insist that the father of four died of asphyxiation. They say deputies were on Silva's back, crushing him.

Silva was wearing a "spit mask," and it was never removed when he vomited. Attorneys say he likely was choking on his own vomit.

Nations said that the incident with officers may have put extra strain on Silva's heart, but Nations blames the methamphetamine in Silva's system.

"Should we have gone to trial? I'm sure there's a lot of people that think we should have," he said. "It's not the first not the last settlement we'll ever do.

"It happens all the time."

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