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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2013 @ 5:49pm

    Re: The trouble with footage

    The problem with footage … is that the account they can provide almost invariably starts in Act 2.


    In this case, though, we have some video that documents the very beginning of the incident. We have the black-and-white surveillance video which has already been published. That's thev ideo that was referred to in the earlier story here at Techdirt. That video appears to start before the incident began.

    If you haven't seen it, the video is embedded in the KERO 23ABC News story “Newly released video allegedly shows fight between intoxicated man and law enforcement” (story by Cris Ornelas and Derek VandeWeg, May 10, 2013)
    23ABC News obtained video early Friday morning of what appears to be Wednesday's violent encounter…

    The video was shot by a security camera near the corner of Palm Drive and Flower Street in East Bakersfield and time-stamped May 8th, which is the same day of Wednesday morning's incident.


    In the Otto Zehm case, in Spokane, experts got as much resolution as they could out of surveillance video, and brought in frame-by-frame stills for the jury to examine.

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