Kern County prosecutor: No charges in Silva in-custody death

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced Friday that she will not file criminal charges against sheriff's deputies for the in-custody death of a man last year.

David Silva died in May 2013 while deputies attempted to arrest him near Kern Medical Center. Witnesses took cellphone video of the arrest and claimed deputies used excessive force.

A coroner's report showed Silva died of heart disease.

Green said a thorough review showed all officers acted with an appropriate amount of force for the circumstances.

"The evidence convinces me that law enforcement personnel involved with effecting the arrest of Mr. Silva acted reasonably in using the amount of force that they ultimately did employ in order to effect the arrest," Green concluded

The D.A. said she got additional video, hired an independent pathologist to review the case, and did a thorough review of the evidence developed by the FBI and Kern County Sheriff's Department.

Green said she launched her department's review because there has been "a lack of information about the facts" surrounding Mr. Silva's death.

Silva's brother, Chris, met with the D.A. privately before her press conference, and peppered her with questions during it. He's not satisfied.

"I'm stunned and pretty much confused by it," Chris Silva told Eyewitness News. "There's certain questions that just haven't been answered."

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the attorneys for the family, called the district attorney's decision a "disappointment," and maintained that deputies "beat and hogtied" Silva before he died.

Officers were originally called on a report or suspicion of public intoxication, and Silva reportedly fought and resisted arrest.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood confirmed that deputies tried to gain control of the situation by using their batons on Silva, but all baton strikes were executed within department policy, he said. The baton strikes avoided the head and neck, the sheriff said.

The sheriff also asked the FBI to do an independent investigation of the incident. On Friday, Green said that report has not been formally released yet.

Green outlined details about the incident found through her department's review.

The D.A. said the first officer on the scene found Silva lying on the ground, appearing to be asleep or passed out. Green said for "approximately seven minutes," the deputy tried to wake Silva.

Once he started moving, the officer observed slurred speech, and when Silva tried to get up he fell 2-3 times, hitting his face. The deputy grabbed Silva's arm to steady him, and noticed rigid muscles -- which the officer took as a sign of being under the influence.

Green said the officer, a K-9 handler, told Silva to stay down, but he did not comply. The deputy warned Silva several times to stop resisting, eventually releasing the police dog from the patrol car.

The dog bit Silva on the leg as the officer tried to keep Silva on the ground. Green said Silva got more agitated and starting "strangling the K9 with both hands."

At about that time, another sheriff's officer got there, he hit Silva several times with his baton while giving him orders to get on his stomach. Then more deputies arrived along with two CHP officers.

By then Silva was on his back, and officers ordered him to roll over to his stomach and put his hands out where they could be seen. When Silva didn't comply, one officer eventually "put his knee on Silva's left shoulder."

Finally officers got hold of both hands and he was cuffed, but Green says Silva continued to thrash around and try to get up.

"That's when Sgt. Sword decided to apply a hobble restraint, for the protection of the deputies," Green said. She said Silva continued to struggle, and an ambulance was called. Because Silva had blood on his face a "spit mask" was applied.

That was removed about 20 seconds later when Silva vomited. He was rolled on his side and his pulse was taken three times, Green said. But, the officer could not feel a pulse.

A Kern County forensic pathologist did an autopsy and ruled the cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease, with contributing factors of acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, severe abdominal obesity, chronic hypertension and acute pulmonary-cardiovascular strain.

That doctor listed the cause of death as an accident. He also found bruises consistent with baton strikes and marks consistent with dog bites.

Green said Friday her office hired "Dr. Sheridan, the Chief Medical Examiner for San Bernardino County" to review the autopsy, reports and photographs.

"He found there was no evidence that Mr. Silva's death was a result of blunt force trauma or physical restraint that cause him to be unable to breathe," Green said.

During the press conference Green was asked about the restraint and use of the "hobble." She said her review looked at whether it was applied correctly, and there's no evidence it was not.

"Based on Dr. Sheridan's opinion there was no restraint asphyxia," she said.

And Green said she had no opinion on the general use of a hobble. But, Chris Silva broke in to question that.

"For such a big man, why would they put on a hog-tie?" he asked. "Explain a hog-tie."

Green said Silva was not hog-tied, and insisted that's different from a "hobble," because of the different length of distance between the cuffing at the wrists to the feet.

During the press conference, Chris Silva also demanded answers about why officers didn't call an ambulance sooner.

Green said there may have been none available any sooner.

The D.A. said their review found the entire incident lasted 19 minutes and 42 seconds. She said the first seven minutes show the initial deputy "waiting for backup and Mr. Silva passed out or asleep on the ground."

Chris Silva said his family can't accept that his brother's death was an accident.

"Don't put a man on his stomach who's obviously in distress," the brother insisted. "Don't say it did not lead to his death. It's what killed him."

Chris Silva said his family will keep working with their attorney to find the truth, and he hopes the public will also keep asking questions.

Both the Silva family and the witnesses filed lawsuits against the county and sheriff's department. The witnesses' suit claims deputies unlawfully detained them and took their private property, including cellphones with video of the Silva incident.

Watch raw witness video of the Silva arrest below.

Green said officers must make split-second judgments in situations like the Silva case.

"The question facing my office was, were the officers' actions objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them?" Green said.

She said the law requires looking at the "totality of circumstances," and that includes things like the severity of the crime, whether the suspect was an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest.

Green said in this case, the officers used reasonable force with verbal commands, use of the police dog and batons. She said all that use was within Kern County Sheriff Department policy.

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