Footage Of Lethal Beating Deleted From Seized Phone; Sheriff Asks FBI To Take Over Investigation

from the a-step-in-the-right-direction dept

Well, this is rather unexpected. After sheriff's deputies seized cell phones containing footage of David Silva's death at the hands of nine law enforcement officers, the assumption was that Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood's promise of a full investigation would result in little more than some officious noises being made and declarations that the recordings were "inconclusive" or "unrecoverable."

That this is the most common assumption shows how far the trustworthiness of law enforcement has fallen. This precipitous drop in trust is almost inversely proportionate to the increase in recordings captured by members of the public. Law enforcement has long been in control of the cameras and this power shift has resulted in some very ugly behavior. The expected mode is cover up and obfuscate, abusing the power that comes with the position.

The unsurprising part of the David Silva beating is this: when one of the phones confiscated by law enforcement (one without a warrant, the other after an illegal nine-hour detention) was inspected at the Sheriff's office, Sheriff Youngblood discovered the footage had been deleted.

The surprising part is that Youngblood decided to call in the FBI to head up a parallel investigation into the death of David Silva. Even better, he had the phones flown out to the FBI's Sacramento office for analysis. This is a rather unprecedented move. The general response from local law enforcement to situations like these is to close ranks and make vague promises and statements about "justice" and "truth." Instead, Youngblood opted to turn the investigation over to a more neutral party (and one with better tech tools).

The fact that this story has attracted national interest probably pushed Youngblood to consider other options. There's little chance the Sheriff's department would be able to control the narrative (or contain the fallout) at this point and with potentially damning footage being deleted by a law enforcement officer, there's no chance for redemption without making the investigation more neutral.

This isn't to say the FBI isn't capable of covering up misbehavior, but in this instance, it really doesn't have much of a stake in the outcome. If the footage shows what eyewitnesses have described, there shouldn't be too much of a question as to where the guilt lies.

The deputies named by the department have been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, and Sheriff Youngblood has stated that these officers have been receiving death threats and negative email. This, too, is an expected outcome. The court of public opinion creates a lot of judge/jury hybrids. Naming the officers involved is a small but significant step towards a transparent investigation. Hopefully, the FBI's involvement will continue in this fashion, rather than take a turn towards the opaque.

Filed Under: david silva, deleted, fbi, kern county, lethal beating, mobile phones, video evidence


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  1. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 May 2013 @ 4:14pm

    The trouble with footage

    The problem with footage and eyewitnesses is that the account they can provide almost invariably starts in Act 2. They see the police interacting with someone in some way; what they don't see is why.

    The classic case is Rodney King, another "footage of police beating" incident. The guy with the camera didn't see the high-speed chase that the severely intoxicated King led the police on, endangering the lives of himself, his passengers, the police, and innocent civilians. It also didn't show him behaving in bizarre ways and making comments that led the officers on the scene to believe he was under the influence of not only alcohol but PCP as well.

    All it showed was the arrest, and subsequent beating after King resisted arrest, and that's all that got broadcast on TV. When an impartial jury considered all the facts, they found the officers not guilty. But they had already been convicted by the media in the court of public opinion, and it touched off a riot.

    Recorded evidence (audio and video) can have a very powerful emotional impact, and when used irresponsibly it can cause serious problems. (See also: the 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case that the reporter edited to manufacture the appearance of racism where none existed.)

    With the way people keep pulling stupid crap like this, it's not hard to understand why even good police don't like being taped. If I was a cop I wouldn't like it either, and not because I wanted to avoid responsibility, but because there's plenty of precedent to worry about that video being used irresponsibly and undermining the public safety that I had taken an oath to protect!

    The closer to the truth, the better the lie, and the truth itself, when it can be used, is the best lie.
    - Isaac Asimov

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