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, 19 May 2013 @ 5:17am

    Kern County Confirms Homicide Investigation

    An article in The Bakersfield Californian quotes a unamed Kern County lawyer's confirmation that the circumstances surrounding David Silva's death are being investigated as a homicide.


    SOUND OFF: What's known, and what's not, in Silva investigation, by John Arthur (Executive Editor), The Bakersfield Californian, May 18, 2013
    In public records requests, we [The Californian] asked for tapes of any other 911 calls and dispatch/radio communications related to the Silva incident. We also requested any audio or video recordings agencies may have of the incident.

    A Kern County lawyer replied:

    "Since this involves an investigation regarding an individual who died, it is a homicide investigation. Records gathered as part of the investigation are records of an investigation conducted by a local police agency. As such, they are exempt from disclosure under Government Code 6254(f).... As to the 911 tape, I do not believe there are any others. The one that was released was released, as I understand it, prior to my response being made to (your reporter) and without my knowledge."



    In the Otto Zehm case, up in Spokane, Washington, one of the huge problems involved the city's confusion between investigating a homicide versus defending the city and its officers from civil liability for wrongful death.

    I hope that Kern County does not similarly confuse homicide investigation with defending a wrongful death.

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