Kern County Coroner Declares David Silva's Death To Be 'Accidental,' Heart Disease-Related

by Tim Cushing
May. 29, 2013

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood held a press conference last Thursday to declare his department's innocence in the death of David Silva. This claim is based on the coroner's report prepared by the Kern County Coroner's office, which reports to the Sheriff's Office. David Silva's death has been declared "accidental," with the official cause of death listed as "cardiac hypertension."

This disease can be a rather sudden killer (onset-to-death can be as little as two years), but the "contributing factors" listed on the coroner's report makes no mention of the heavy physical strain put on Silva's body by the restraint efforts of nine law enforcement officers and a police dog. Here's what the report says contributed to Silva's death: "Acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, severe abdominal obesity, chronic hypertension, acute pulmonary-cardiovascular strain." "Acute pulmonary cardiovascular strain" sounds like a naturally-occurring health event, but it's nothing more than severe strain on the heart and lungs -- something that might occur when an already out of shape person is restrained (within policy) by several men and a police dog while being intermittently beaten (within policy).

The "acute intoxication" is also questionable as Silva's BAC was .095, not much higher than the legal limit in many states (.08). Of course, the coroner's office could be folding Silva's drug intake into the "intoxication" level as he had amphetamines, methamphetamine and Klonopin in his system as well.

The autopsy almost makes it sound as if David Silva might have passed away that night, with or without receiving special attention from Kern County deputies. I suppose there's a slim chance he might have expired of natural causes while passed out on someone's doorstep, but it's much more likely that he was pushed towards an early grave by the amount of force used against him.

Sheriff Youngblood seems to feel the autopsy clears his department of any wrongdoing. This likely explains the release of the report mere days after he informed the media it could take up to a month before the toxicology work was completed.

This also explains why he went on the attack during his press conference. He blamed the media for skewing the story, playing on peoples' emotions and placing his deputies in danger. He also stated his office would no longer be releasing names of officers involved in incidents like these.

According to Youngblood, everything about Silva's "arrest" was handled in accordance with department policy. According to the Sheriff, only three deputies used batons (and then hit Silva only in approved areas -- i.e., not the head). The coroner's report mentions "signs of blunt force trauma" to the left side of Silva's head, which could possibly be explained by the kicking witnessed by onlookers. Whatever hit Silva's head (or whatever Silva's head hit), it was non-lethal -- no skull fractures or brain injury.

Because Silva failed to die from anything directly related to the beating/"hobbling" (Silva was restrained with a "hobble," or "hogtied" for all intents and purposes), Youngblood feels the responding officers did no wrong. Everything that occurred that night was compliant with policy. The closest the coroner's report comes to implicating law enforcement in Silva's death is this sentence:
Death is from the sequelae of severe chronic cardiovascular disease exacerbated by the effects of acute intoxication together with the sequelae of properly employed restraint procedures.
(How do we know the restraint procedures were properly employed? Because deputies told the coroner and investigating officers that they were. Nothing listed in the report points to improperly employed restraint or excessive force. But the question remains: if nine officers "properly employ" restraint procedures, does the combined force become "excessive?" Or is it fine as long as it's a "properly employed" nine-on-one "restraint?")

If all of this is above board, it doesn't explain the deputies' pressing need to "secure" citizens' cell phone recordings, which was performed without a warrant in one case, and in the other, took the form of a nine-hour "house arrest" to ensure the footage didn't make its way to the news before the warrant arrived.

Youngblood attacked this narrative as well, stating it was actually "only" five hours of detainment. If this is truly the case, Youngblood should release the warrant and compare it with cell phone records. Allegedly, his deputies contacted the witnesses with the cell phones they were interested in obtaining sometime between 2 and 3 am, but the warrant didn't show up until nearly noon.

He also made this disingenuous statement:
Anyone there was free to leave at any time. No one was held hostage. [One of the witnesses] just couldn’t take the phone that had the evidence. Once he gave the phone and were in the process of getting a search warrant, he left. The second [phone], we obtained a search warrant, we waited two hours and 11 minutes to get that search warrant and to seize that phone.
"Free to leave" is "free to leave." It doesn't come with strings attached.

Youngblood stated he would release all video his department has in its possession. (However, it appears the California Highway Patrol isn't interested in parting with its dash-cam footage of the incident.) As far as Sheriff Youngblood is concerned, this report, combined with the footage publicly available, clears the officers of wrongdoing. The deputies involved will be returning to work (apparently, they were still on paid administrative leave despite reports otherwise).

But it's not over yet. The District Attorney's office has announced it will be performing its own investigation and the FBI has yet to deliver its report. In addition, the attorney for David Silva's family has announced that the law firm's "experts" will be performing their own investigation as well.

The Kern County Sheriff's Office is no stranger to this sort of controversy.
The Silva episode follows several high-profile brutality cases involving the Kern County Sheriff's Office in recent years.

One led to criminal convictions of three deputies and a $6-million civil judgment in the 2005 death of a jail inmate, according to attorneys. Another resulted in a $4.5-million court award for the family of a man who died in 2010 after being struck 33 times with batons and Tasered 29 times, attorneys said.
Even if the KCSO is ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, this incident should at least prompt law enforcement officials to take a closer look at what their restraint policies allow -- and what sort of harm can actually be done to citizens while still ostensibly "following the rules." A couple of officers restraining someone using proper techniques is probably fine. But nine officers (and an attack dog) properly deploying "non-lethal" weapons and restraint can very easily turn an arrestee into a victim.

Coroner report (PDF)

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