The attorney for the family of David Sal Silva plans to file a federal civil rights claim against local law enforcement this week in connection with Silva's death after a struggle with sheriff's deputies and highway patrol officers, he said Saturday, the same day a rally was held marking the one-month anniversary of the incident.
Attorney David Cohn told The Californian he will file the claim -- a required step before filing a lawsuit -- against the Kern County Sheriff's Office, California Highway Patrol and Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
He said he'd wanted to first obtain investigative records from the agencies to learn more about what happened to Silva but he's been denied them; he will seek them during litigation.
Cohn also confirmed something Silva's father told the newspaper at Saturday's rally outside the Sheriff's Office headquarters on Norris Road -- that Cohn is having a pathologist examine tissue samples from Silva's body to learn more about the death.
Cohn said he's "pretty convinced this was an asphyxiation death" -- meaning Silva died when vital organs were deprived of oxygen -- after deputies and officers used a hogtie-like device called a "hobble" on him to stop him from kicking them.
The tissue samples might shed light on that, Cohn said.
Silva, a father of four, died May 8, less than an hour after a struggle with seven deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers who tried to arrest him after he was found sleeping on a street corner in east Bakersfield. Sheriff Youngblood has said Silva put up a violent fight and that the deputies simply did what they had to, including deploying a canine, to get him under control.
An autopsy concluded the cause of death was hypertensive heart disease and the manner of death accidental. "Other significant conditions" listed were acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, severe abdominal obesity, chronic hypertension and acute pulmonary cardiovascular strain.
On Saturday, Silva's aunt, Judy Silva, said the rally, which at the start involved about two dozen people, was held "to make sure (the incident) is not forgotten and justice is served."
"He was only 33 years old and he was a good person," she said. "They're making it seem like he was an indigent person who deserved to die. No one deserves to die like that."
"I don't understand how a guard was able to move him off the grounds, but then the sheriff's department comes along and my son winds up dead," said Silva's father, Sal Silva. "Are the guards better trained than the sheriff's deputies?"
Sal Silva was referring to a Kern Medical Center security guard who escorted David Silva off property between the nearby Mary K. Shell Mental Health Center and a personnel trailer about a half hour before Silva's encounter with law enforcement at Flower Street and Palm Drive.
The Sheriff's Office has said it will no longer comment on the Silva case. A watch commander on duty Saturday said he'd relay a message seeking comment to the department's public information officer, who did not call the newspaper back.
But Youngblood has strongly defended the deputies' actions and blamed the media for stirring up controversy.
Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said May 24 that her office will conduct an independent review of Silva's death once the sheriff's department and FBI have finished their investigations. Cohn and Silva's family said they've not been informed of the status of those inquiries.
At the rally, protesters distributed a petition asking that the officers involved in the Silva incident be dismissed and prosecuted.
"We want these officers off the street," said Deanna Brownen of Bakersfield. "Would you want to be pulled over by them? I wouldn't."
Youngblood said May 23 that the deputies involved will be cleared to return to work after having been on routine paid administrative leave. Their exact status is unclear.
The rally also featured several people from around California who said their loved ones were wrongfully killed in incidents involving law enforcement officers. They regularly travel the state in support of families in similar circumstances.
Sherry Gyotoku said her nephew Michael Nida, a 31-year-old father of four, was out on a date with his wife when he was shot to death by Downey police in October 2011.
According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Downey police responding to a bank robbery report came across Nida and thought he matched the description of the suspect. Police detained Nida several times but he got away and at one point during a chase, he turned and "acted aggressively," the newspaper quoted police as saying.
The Press-Telegram quoted an attorney as saying Nida, who was unarmed, was killed by a three-round burst from an assault rifle. He reportedly said two rounds hit Nida's back and one hit his arm.
Nida's family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit and reached a $4.5 million settlement with the city of Downey, the newspaper reported May 14. Prosecutors decided not to charge the officer who shot Nida and the city of Downey said its insurer made decisions in the case, according to KABC in Los Angeles.
"It's not right," Gyotoku said at Saturday's rally about what she considers police brutality. "They can't go around and think they can kill."