Two cellphones confiscated last week from witnesses to the in-custody death of David Sal Silva were returned Wednesday to the attorney representing the witnesses.
The video on one of the phones could be released as early as Friday, he said.
“I have both cellphones,” Bakersfield attorney John Tello said. “Of course, we have to submit them for forensic examination.”
Silva was pronounced dead at 12:44 a.m. May 8, less than one hour after witnesses said he was descended upon by several Sheriff’s Office deputies, including some who struck Silva multiple times with batons.
Two California Highway Patrol officers also were at the scene.
The cellphones owned by two witnesses were confiscated by Sheriff’s Office investigators later that morning.
Standing in his downtown Bakersfield office Wednesday, Tello said it’s important that a technical examination of the phones be undertaken so that he can determine, if possible, whether any video was deleted from the phones after it was recorded in the early morning hours of May 8.
Tello said he watched the available video Wednesday morning, and he confirmed what Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood revealed Tuesday: that one of the witnesses’ cell phones contains no video. He said he couldn’t comment further about what was caught on video, but he said there’s a possibility the video could be released to the public this week.
“Friday is probably a fair estimate,” Tello said. “It’s the property of my clients, so it’s up to them when it will be released.”
His clients shot the video with the intention of sharing it with news outlets, Tello said. And he has no reason to believe their intent has changed.
Tello said the phone owned by his client Maria Melendez, who was standing closest to the scene of last week’s incident near Kern Medical Center, was the one found to contain no video footage. The phone owned by another client, Francisco Arrieta, contains three video clips of the incident totaling approximately 11 minutes.
The phones were dropped off Wednesday by a sergeant with the Sheriff’s Office, Tello said.
In a press conference held late Tuesday afternoon, Youngblood told reporters that one of the phones contained no video, despite assurances by witnesses that video was indeed captured on both phones. As there was an expectation that both phones contained video footage, Youngblood decided to ask the FBI to conduct its own examination of the phones.
Shane Swanson, chief operations officer for ARRC Technology in Bakersfield, said ARRC has performed a variety of data recovery scenarios, and each one can be different.
But in general, he said, when data is deleted from a computer hard drive or the memory chip in a cellphone, the chance of recovery is better if new data hasn’t been rewritten over the deleted data.
No matter what the FBI ultimately uncovers, Tello said his clients are adamant.
“My clients are very, very clear about what they saw,” he said, “and about how many videos they took.”