Lois Henry

Wednesday, May 15 2013 08:00 AM

LOIS HENRY: Impartial reviews should be standard procedure, not just in Silva beating case

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    By Photo courtesy of the family

    A photograph from the family of David Silva showing him and his three daughters Makayla, 10, Katelyn, 4, and Chelsey, 8.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    About 20 people attended a vigil for David Silva on the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive a few days after his death.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    David Silva's brother Chris and father Sal attend a vigil for David at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive. Blood stains the sidewalk were David was arrested early May 8.

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    By Alex Horvath /The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood holds a news conference at the Norris Road headquarters regarding his request that the FBI analyze the two cell phones seized in connection with the in-custody death of David Silva. Specifically, Youngblood requested the FBI conduct a forensic analysis of the contents of the cell phones. He's also asked the FBI to more generally investigate the circumstances surrounding Silva's death.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Califorian

    David Cohn speaks at a news conference with the family of David Silva, 33, who died while being arrested by Kern County Sheriff's deputies early Wednesday morning. Seated with David Cohn are Chris Silva, the brother, Sal Silva, the father and attorney David Cohn and Merri Silva, the mother.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Family members of David Silva speak to area residents at Flower Street and Palm Drive concerning an incident between Silva and the Kern County Sheriff's Department that ended early May 8 with the death of Silva. A memorial of flowers and candles has been set up near where Silva died.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Chris Silva speaks about his brother David Silva, 33, who died while being arrested by Kern County sheriff's deputies early May 8. The incident happened across from Kern Medical Center at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive. Family members are questioning how David Silva died.

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By Lois Henry

Of course the possible beating death of David Sal Silva by a swarm of law enforcement officers should be investigated by an outside agency. No question.

That's almost verbatim what I said about the death of David Turner, shot by Kern County Sheriff's deputies in July 2011.

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The Turner investigation was kept in house, however, and was deemed within department policy because Turner swung a bag of beers at a deputy who had just hit him in the leg with a baton.

Though Turner missed, that bag of beers could have been lethal, therefore the deputy was justified in his own use of lethal force, the Sheriff's Office concluded.

That assessment has never set well with a large segment of the community and trust in the department was seriously eroded.

Well, here we are nearly two years later with another officer-involved death that, to the outside observer, looks bad -- real bad.

I'm glad Sheriff Donny Youngblood has decided -- this one time -- to involve an outside agency, the FBI. (I certainly hope the California Highway Patrol, which had two officers involved in the Silva incident, will follow suit. So, far the CHP has been mum.)

But a couple of things:

The Deparment of Justice also needs to take a looksee at policies and training within the Sheriff's deparment to make sure everyone is up to speed on the U.S. Constitution in regards to illegal search and seizure.

Deputies barging into a private residence that has nothing to do with the crime scene without a warrant and holding people against their will to "secure evidence" should frighten and appall all citizens.

On that note, the judge who signed that ridiculously overbroad warrant, more than eight hours after residents were besieged, needs to be held accountable as well. Please remember the name Charles Brehmer come election time.

And, clearly, clearly, Kern County needs some sort of standing task force to handle officer-involved deaths in a transparent, impartial manner.

I've never advocated a citizen's review panel. Average Janes and Joes lack the technical expertise and such panels can too easily become politicized.

I had hoped we could do as other counties have done and have all officer-involved deaths automatically reviewed by the District Attorney's office.

But I've been told by the DA's office twice now that they have no interest in taking that on.

"We have full faith in the Sheriff's department that they will do an accurate and complete investigation," Chief Deputy DA Mark Pafford told me Tuesday. "In the past they've done such investigations and submitted cases to us. Some we've filed on and some we've declined."

He noted the Sheriff's Office sought charges against Deputy John Swearengin, who allegedly mowed down two people on Norris Road in December 2011 while speeding in his patrol car. That case is underway.

The department also asked for charges against deputies Ascension Plaza and Aaron Nadal, Pafford said, for alleged excessive force and falsifying a police report in a beating case in 2012. The DA declined to file charges in that case.

Given those recent examples, he said, "The public should be able to have trust in the Sheriff's department."

I'm glad Pafford trusts the department.

I, however, hew toward the old saying employed by the late President Ronald Reagan: "Trust but verify."

I especially would like to verify that we can trust the Sheriff's Office since the Sheriff is also the Coroner in this county and has control over key information about cause and manner of death.

We're not unique in that. Lots of counties have combo Sheriff/Coroners.

But other counties automatically have officer-involved deaths investigated by outside agencies.

In fact, Contra Costa County has a whole system that sounds refreshingly thorough and transparent.

It has a task force (made up of the officer's agency, any other agencies with jurisdiction over the scene, assisting agencies and the DA) do a criminal investigation. The officer's agency does a separate administrative investigation.

And once those are done, usually within six weeks, an outside hearing officer conducts a public inquest into the manner and cause of death where witnesses testify under oath and facts are presented in public.

Other counties have modified and adopted pieces of Contra Costa's protocol, but Contra Costa so far is the only county in the state that routinely holds such inquests, said Deputy Coroner T. Biggs.

Everyone isn't always happy with the conclusions, he said but at least its all done in the open.

"We're able to show that we're not hiding anything," Biggs said.

I would think Kern County would be eager to say the same.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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