The family of David Silva announced Friday it has filed its long-expected federal civil rights claims against the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, six sheriff’s deputies and a sergeant, two California Highway Patrol officers, the county and the state alleging excessive police force killed him.
Silva, 33, died May 8 after a struggle with sheriff’s deputies and CHP officer during which he was struck by batons and bitten by a police canine. A subsequent autopsy concluded the manner of Silva’s death was accidental from hypertensive heart disease.
“Other significant conditions” listed in the report were acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, severe abdominal obesity, chronic hypertension and acute pulmonary cardiovascular strain.
Attorney David Cohn held a news conference Friday morning saying he had filed a claim on behalf of Silva’s four young children, his girlfriend, his parents and his brother, and that the cause of death was “excessive force used by nine law enforcement officials who repeatedly struck him with batons and hog-tied him despite his numerous cries for help.”
Cohn said that he hoped the filing of the claim — which is a required step before filing a lawsuit — would serve as a catalyst for serious change among local law enforcement agencies.
Government agencies often deny such claims, after which time plaintiffs then file their lawsuit.
The Silva family seeks damages “in excess of $10,000,” according to the claim against the county of Kern. The state claim is a “non-limited civil case over $25,000.”
“No amount of money is going to bring David back,” Cohn said at Friday’s news conference. “It’s the family’s desire to bring out all the facts in this case. It’s really the family’s desire to change the culture and the behavior of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.”
The department needs to change its “strike-first, ask-questions-later” culture, Cohn said.
The Sheriff’s Office referred calls seeking comment to the Kern County Counsel’s office. Mark Nations, chief deputy county counsel for litigation, said the claim was inappropriate in light of the coroner’s report.
“(Silva) essentially had cardiac arrest because of the amount of exertion he was putting into resisting the police,” Nations said. “Based on the information I have, I think law enforcement handled the situation as best they could under the circumstances.”
The California Highway Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.
Cohn said the pathologist’s report was based in part on information law enforcement supplied to the examiner, and there is no mention made in the report of the position Silva was in or that he may have been hog-tied.
Numerous police agencies have discontinued the practice of hog-tying suspects due to a risk of asphyxiation, Cohn said.
It’s not clear precisely what position Silva was in during the incident. A cell phone video shot by a witness shows that Silva was on his chest at one point, and that his wrists and ankles were cuffed or bound, but it’s hard to see whether his wrists and ankles were bound together, Cohn said.
Late at night on May 7, a security guard awakened Silva, who was asleep in front of Kern Medical Center, and told him he had to leave. The guard walked Silva off the property and he went across the street to a yard at Flower Street and Palm Drive.
Later, a deputy “knuckle-rubbed” Silva on his chest, causing him to wake and “appear flustered,” according to the claim against the county. Over the next few minutes, the deputies and CHP officers and a K-9 dog attacked Silva as he screamed for his life and begged them to stop, Cohn said.
Silva was pronounced dead at Kern Medical Center at 12:44 a.m. May 8.
During the earlier encounter with the security guard, Silva was not belligerent or antagonistic and readily complied with the order to leave the property, Cohn said.
Why did a man who was sleeping peacefully wind up dead when sheriff’s deputies arrived, he asked.
“Perhaps the county of Kern can learn from whatever method was employed by the security guard,” Cohn said.
Authorities have not complied with Cohn’s requests for the incident report, the audio and video from patrol car dash cams or tissue slides obtained by the pathologist, he said.
“We will get those,” Cohn said, adding that when he does, “our experts will have lots of questions.”