Local News

Thursday, May 23 2013 05:13 PM

New coalition presses for citizens review panel

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    In response to the death of David Sal Silva and other in-custody or officer-involved deaths involving local law enforcement, members of several civil rights groups called for a citizens review panel Thursday. One of the speakers was Camila Chavez, executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and an executive member of the California Civil Rights Coalition.

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

A small but forceful group of community members including from longtime civil rights organizations called Thursday for creation of a citizens review board in Kern County in response to the death of David Sal Silva.

Members of the organizations, including the Dolores Huerta Foundation, NAACP, American GI Forum and California Civil Rights Coalition, said such a board would improve community safety and create more effective policing.

"We want to help the community restore their trust with local law enforcement," Camila Chavez, executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, said. "We intend to do that by creating an independent citizen oversight committee by researching other successful models that have been implemented in California."

But during a Thursday afternoon press conference about Silva's death, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said a citizens review panel isn't needed.

"This case personifies exactly why a citizens review board is not a good idea because I as a sheriff deal with facts, law and policy," Youngblood said. "We don't deal with emotion, but the public does."

Similarly, Kern County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford told The Californian earlier this month it trusted the sheriff's investigation of the Silva incident.

"We have full faith in the sheriff's department that they will do an accurate and complete investigation," Pafford said. "In the past they've done such investigations and submitted cases to us. Some we've filed on and some we've declined."

The group calling for a citizens review panel, Kern Unity Coalition, said it was too soon to give concrete examples of what exactly it would like to see formed.

Duane Goff, commander of the Kern County chapter of the American GI Forum, said the group is talking to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to investigate the history of law enforcement force in Kern.

"If we have people in the community that don't feel safe because of law enforcement reputation, that hurts all of us," Goff said.

The group will be gathering information from different models being used across California, and hopes to create a model that is the best fit for Kern. Cities like Los Angeles and San Fransisco have created and implemented new training and policies for law enforcement, Chavez said.

The group said it also wants to make sure local law enforcement knows it is not saying every deputy or officer is the same.

"We know that many of those in law enforcement are honest, ethical, hard working people, but the problem is when they come into our communities, we don't know which one they are, so we have to distrust all of them," Goff said.

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