The family of a Bakersfield man who died May 8 following a violent confrontation with nine law enforcement officers and a police dog has filed a lawsuit potentially worth millions against the county of Kern, Sheriff Donny Youngblood and deputies involved in the struggle.
The lawsuit was filed July 8 in U.S. District Court by Bakersfield attorney Daniel Rodriguez on behalf of the late David Sal Silva's longtime girlfriend, Tara Garlick, and the couple's four young children.
Silva, 33, died less than an hour after the confrontation with deputies began. He was unarmed.
A separate legal claim was filed last month by attorney David Cohn on behalf of Silva's parents and brother. At that time Cohn's claim -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- also included Garlick and the children as plaintiffs.
But that has changed, Rodriguez said.
"The mother of the children, Tara Garlick, wanted to go with a lawyer who had a little bit more experience and expertise in handling these cases," he said. "I don't want to read more into it than that."
According to allegations detailed in the lawsuit, a deputy first contacted Silva sleeping in front of a house across the street from Kern Medical Center.
Immediately after awakening Silva, the lawsuit alleges, "this sheriff's deputy, along with five other deputies and a sergeant proceeded to strike this man with batons several times all over his body, while the man screamed in pain and repeatedly begged the officers to stop."
"At about this time, a K-9 dog belonging to one of the sheriff's deputies attacked the man," the lawsuit continues. "Eventually, the officers hogtied the man. After the repeated beating by the sheriff's deputies and biting by a deputy's K-9 dog, the man eventually stopped breathing."
The suit further alleges officers failed to immediately transport Silva to the hospital "despite the man's apparent inability to breathe."
A subsequent autopsy by the Kern County Coroner's office concluded the manner of Silva's death was accidental and the cause was hypertensive heart disease, not a result of his injuries.
A toxicology screen also found that Silva had alcohol, methamphetamine and other drugs in his system. And Youngblood said in May that even multiple deputies had a difficult time subduing Silva.
Rodriguez contends that Silva died as a result of unreasonable and excessive use of force by deputies, and because they failed to intervene or make any effort to stop the beating.
"At trial we'll get a chance to show the jury that it's a triggering event," Rodriguez said of the beating.
"He may have suffered a heart attack," he added. "But the question is, what precipitated, what caused that heart attack?"
Ultimately, the lawsuit alleges that deputies used excessive force against Silva in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. It also alleges that Garlick and the children were denied Silva's continued love and companionship, and that defendants conspired and agreed, by evidence of their behavior, to violate Silva's civil rights.
Sheriff Youngblood referred all questions about the Silva case to the Kern County Counsel's office.
Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner could not be reached for comment.
Cohn as well could not be reached for comment.
This latest lawsuit raises questions about how the various civil actions connected to the Silva case may affect one other. Significantly, Rodriguez said.
"Eventually they will probably be combined by order of the court," he said. "Why? Because judges will say, 'I don't want depositions of the same people repeated, duplicated. So it's almost guaranteed that the judge is going to order that all the cases will be combined."
And what kind of exposure might the county be facing?
"I don't attach a dollar amount to these cases," Rodriguez said. "Why? It's left up to the jury, what they think is fair -- and right.
"But potentially?" he said. "Potentially it's worth millions."