Cops Beat Father to Death, Sexually Abuse Handcuffed Girl: Reports
Kern County Whacked Hard for Abuses
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — Kern County agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle two civil rights cases, one in which a father died after officers beat him with batons and another in a sexual battery case.
The county’s $3.4 million settlement of the first case comes nearly three years after David Silva, 33, died in an encounter with seven Kern County Sheriff’s officers and two California Highway Patrol officers.
Neil Gehlawat, an attorney for Silva’s family, said the settlement “is a bittersweet end to a long journey to achieving justice.”
“It is bitter in that David is not here with us. He is not here to be a father to his children. But it is sweet that we know that the settlement we have obtained in this case is going to go a long way to helping David’s children secure a brighter future,” said Gehlawat, an attorney with Chain Cohn Stiles.
Just before midnight on May 7, 2013, Silva was sleeping outdoors across from the Kern County Medical Center. When officers responding to a report of an intoxicated man outside the medical center tried to wake Silva, an altercation ensued between Silva, the officers and a police dog.
Silva was struck with batons and bitten 30 times before being hogtied, Silva’s family said.
A spit mask was placed on him, but immediately removed after he vomited. Silva stopped breathing at 12:44 a.m. on May 8 and was pronounced dead 49 minutes after the first deputy awakened him.
Several witnesses stepped forward, calling it police brutality. Five witnesses filed lawsuits against Kern County, claiming that officers forcibly took their cellphones after they recorded the incident.
A Kern County coroner’s report declared Silva’s death accidental due to hypertensive heart disease.
The report said his condition was complicated by acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, severe abdominal obesity, chronic hypertension and acute pulmonary-cardiovascular strain.
Gehlawat said the pathologist who performed the autopsy had little information about the circumstances of Silva’s death and had been told only that there was no foul play on the part of the officers.
“Those deputies and the officers involved in that incident killed David Silva, and this settlement of $3.4 million is a reflection of that reality,” he said.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood stood by his officers.
“What an attorney says on TV means absolutely nothing. It’s not evidence. It’s a story they can tell the public to, in my opinion, build their case,” Youngblood said at a news conference.
Youngblood said he opposed settling the case and that the officers’ actions “were in policy and were within the law.”
He blamed drug abuse as a catalyst for Silva’s death.
In the second case, involving a woman’s sexual assault by former Kern County Deputy Gabriel Lopez, the county agreed to pay the unidentified woman $1 million.
Gehlawat, also the attorney in this case, said the settlement is fair, “given the emotional distress that our client has suffered to date and will continue to suffer from for the rest of her life.”
Officer Lopez pleaded no contest in July 2015 to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment and two counts of sexual battery. The charges stemmed from an assault on two women in separate incidents.
A 21-year-old woman reported in March 2013 that when Lopez and another deputy arrived at her Tehachapi residence in a burglary investigation, Lopez handcuffed her and led her into another room to search her for weapons, and inappropriately touched her and reached under her clothing.
The woman, who is the subject of the $1 million settlement, said Lopez returned to her home later that evening, made her remove her clothing and again touched her inappropriately.
An 18-year-old woman then came forward that month and told deputies that Lopez had inappropriately touched her after telling her he needed to search her for weapons and drugs. In that incident, Lopez was investigating a peace disturbance inside the woman’s home.
Gehlawat said that shortly after the incidents occurred, a litigation coordinator from the county went to both victims’ homes and tried to pay them off.
“Our client was ultimately offered $10,000 to settle her case, but she refused. The other victim agreed to take $5,000 to settle her case, without first being able to consult with an attorney. The $1 million settlement is 100 times the amount our client was offered before she retained an attorney and 200 times the amount the other victim was paid,” Gehlawat said.
David Cohn, with the same law firm, called it “preposterous” that the county would attempt “to buy off these poor victims” when they were still vulnerable from the sexual assaults.
Theresa Goldner, counsel for Kern County, told reporters that Cohn and his law firm violated terms of the settlement when they issued a news release about it, so the deal could be voided.
The law firm responded: “We believe the settlement is still valid, and is not in jeopardy. It is against public policy to prevent the disclosure of settlement with a public entity, and flies in the face of transparency.”
Published by Courthouse News Service.
Watch the video below of officers beating David: