Local News

Thursday, May 23 2013 08:09 PM

Attorneys rebut sheriff's findings, criticisms

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood describes the action of David Silva clutching the neck of a sheriff's dog.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Attorneys for the family of David Sal Silva and for the witnesses to his violent encounter with sheriff's deputies reacted with incredulity and outrage to the sheriff's statements Thursday.

Bakersfield attorney David Cohn, who is representing the Silva family in what could become a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff's department, questioned the autopsy results.

The notion that Silva died because he had heart disease -- because he was a chronically unhealthy individual -- and that the blows he sustained, the restrictive hobbling device he was placed in, and the multiple dog bites he suffered did not contribute to his death, is hard to believe, Cohn said.

"They're trying to say he died of natural causes," Cohn said. "Who would believe that?"

Cohn said he is sending a copy of the autopsy to an out-of-state expert, someone who can comb through it and come back with an independent analysis.

"So far we've received a one-sided version from the sheriff's department," Cohn said. "I want to hear from someone else."

According to the sheriff's autopsy, Silva's body was "covered by blunt-force injuries of a fairly superficial nature."

No fractures were detected and no injuries to the brain were noted, although there was a "large hematoma and abrasion to the left side of his head," the autopsy states.

"There are several areas consistent with dog bites," the report continues.

"None of the dog bite type areas can be considered lethal," the report states. "None of the injuries to the body are at a level of pathology considered to be lethal."

In an interview with Silva's mother, whose name was redacted from the report, she told an investigator she last saw her son at around 5 p.m. May 7, the evening before his death. He was upset following an argument and possible breakup with his girlfriend and his mother thought he had been drinking. He drank alcohol excessively on a regular basis, she told the investigator.

According to the toxicology report, Silva had a blood alcohol level of 0.095, which is over the legal limit for driving a motor vehicle. He had 210 nanograms of methamphetamine per milliliter of blood and 30 ng/ml. of amphetamine. Both drugs are stimulants. There was also evidence of the drug Clonazepam.

Bakersfield attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who is representing several people who witnessed the confrontation between deputies and Silva -- including two whose cell phones were confiscated May 8 -- said the sheriff's opinion of whether any witnesses like or dislike, trust or distrust, law enforcement is irrelevant.

It's also irrelevant whether investigators remained in the home with cell phone witnesses for about 4 1/2 hours, as Youngblood said Thursday, or several more hours as witnesses had indicated.

"The sheriff's department still doesn't get it," Rodriguez said. "Do deputies have the right to take our private property, to hold us hostage in our homes without a warrant? The answer is no."

Whether it was 10 minutes, four hours or eight hours, it doesn't matter, Rodriguez said.

When Francisco Arrieta turned over his cell phone before the search warrant arrived, he did it because he had to go to work. It wasn't voluntary, Rodriguez said. Investigators left him no choice.

"It's called duress," Rodriguez said. "He had to go to work."

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