A pair of the cell phone recordings of the David Silva beating have been released by attorney Daniel Rodriguez. 23ABC News received the videos first, both of which capture the final moments of Silva's life. Unfortunately for those seeking more clarity as to the actions of the nine responding officers, these videos fail to provide much insight into the officers' actions during the previous 30-40 minutes.
Both videos were shot after the batons had stopped (allegedly) swinging. [The videos won't embed so you'll have to click through to view them.] In the first, Silva is surrounded by several members of law enforcement who are obviously still restraining him. You can hear faint orders to "get down" being yelled by the officers, but the most noticeable sounds come from Silva himself, who spends most of the runtime screaming.
The second video shows the efforts of law enforcement and the responding EMS unit to revive Silva. One of the offscreen voices makes a couple of interesting statements. First, he points out that officers "stood around for five minutes" by Silva's unmoving body before attempting resuscitation. The second, echoed by a female voice, lends some credence to the story put forth by several witnesses: "Now, it's a murder scene."
Also of note, at 5:19 a second cell phone, presumably recording, shows up in frame. This would appear to be the other cell phone that was seized by the Sheriff's Department, the one on which the footage is no longer available.
The witnesses claim that both phones had footage of officers striking and kicking Silva, but with both phones now returned to their owners, none of the footage has survived. Both phones made their way from the deputies who seized the phones to the Kern County Sheriff's Office, which then shared the phones with the Bakersfield PD and the FBI. The FBI has apparently analyzed both phones but has yet to release its findings.
Here's where we stand right now, according to Rodriguez:
Rodriguez told ABC23 that "the more incriminating video was one on the other cellphone." He said that video was shot "while the batons were swinging." Rodriguez added the second phone was returned to his client with no video. If a video was erased from that phone, he said, it could not be recovered because of the type of the device.
David Cohn, the attorney for David Silva's family, has his own concerns:
[Cohn] said his clients are concerned that the videos might be erased or destroyed, either accidentally or on purpose. He has not seen them.
"If I'd heard that they'd given them to the FBI, ok," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "But the Bakersfield Police Department, whom they work with on a daily basis? It certainly doesn't have the look of impartiality."
Cohn also (obviously) has his concerns about the phone seizures themselves.
Cohn said the Sheriff's Department went "well beyond a reasonable search" in obtaining the videos, making no effort to ask for copies or voluntary cooperation from the witnesses.
"They held these people hostage for several hours pending the serving of a search warrant. I've never heard of that before," he said.
Beyond the deputies' abuse of these witnesses' rights, there's another aspect that may have made these seizures illegal
, as posited by ExCop-LawStudent.
The Privacy Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000aa(a) (hereafter PPA), states:
Notwithstanding any other law, it shall be unlawful for a government officer or employee, in connection with the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense, to search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication….
This law provides that if a person takes a video of police action and intends to disseminate it to the public, the police can only obtain the video by subpoena, not by a search warrant. In this case neither of the individuals who had their property seized were suspects in the crime being investigated, the death of David Silva at the hands of Kern County Sheriff’s deputies, nor were they being arrested.
The sheriff’s office was aware of the video because the individual that taped the beating called 911.
Further, that individual informed the 911 personnel that she intended to disseminate the video to the public (at 0:46 of the call), saying “I’m sending it to the news.” At this point, the Sheriff’s office was on notice that this was “work product” protected by the Privacy Protection Act, and should have been obtained by subpoena, not by a search warrant. Indeed, the law specifically provides that a warrant can only be used after a subpoena has failed to obtain the material.
In support of this argument, the author cites the infamous case brought against the US by Steve Jackson Games, which had several work products seized by US Secret Service agents via a warrant
, despite not being a suspect in the investigation at hand. The end result was $50,000 in damages plus attorney's fees being awarded to the game maker for these illegal seizures.
The video supposedly containing the most damning footage is missing. What we do have available only shows the aftermath of the beating. We're still waiting for much more information to be released. There's been no word back from the FBI on its analysis of the phones. The coroner has yet to release an official cause of death and the sheriff's office has stated this process could take up to four months. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood continues to make concerned noises, but the lack of conclusive video has also prompted a bit more hedging, along with some unfortunate statements
"I have seen the video," Youngblood said last week. "I cannot speculate whether they acted appropriately or not just by looking at the video."
The sheriff, however, acknowledged that there is a great deal of public concern about the incident and subsequent investigation. "It is not just troubling to the public, it is not just troubling to news media, it is troubling to me," he said. In an interview with The Times, he said the credibility of the department is at stake.
"Baton strikes were used, but what I don't know is how many and where they were on the body and if they caused significant injury that caused death," he said.
Youngblood said the baton is a less lethal weapon, and because of that its use doesn’t usually lead to deputies being placed on leave. But he said the head is not an appropriate place for a baton strike.
"Sometimes in the heat of battle, the baton doesn't go where you want it to go.... If someone has 20 baton strikes to the head, OK, that is easy for us. But when there is a fight or scuffle and a baton strike goes where it should not ... then you have to evaluate,” he said.
The passive voice in this context is bordering on reprehensible. There's a person controlling the baton and that person presumably should have the training to ensure proper "placement" of the weapon. The two deputies seen on the surveillance tape seem to be controlling their batons very well
, using both hands to swing and connect with Silva. Nine
officers swinging batons at one man are going to run out of "appropriate" real estate on a human body very quickly.
Youngblood seems to be drawing a line between proper baton use and a savage beating, but he's drawing the line in his office's favor. If all
officers aimed exclusively
for Silva's head, it's an open-and-shut case. But, if Silva struggled, or if blows rained down on other parts of his body as well, it's probably just good (if a bit too aggressive) police work (pending "evaluation").
Youngblood's statement serves two purposes: to define how far officers under his control actually have to go in terms of violence in order to warrant further review or disciplinary action, and to justify the fact that his deputies are still on active duty
, despite earlier reporting that they had been placed on paid administrative leave until the investigation was complete.
It is common to place law enforcement officers on paid leave during investigations of arrest-related deaths, but the Californian reported the deputies involved remain on duty.
Youngblood's deputies who allegedly beat a man to death are still on patrol. One hopes that they won't find themselves in any situations in which a baton strike might be used, or go where the deputies "don't want it to go."