After David Sal Silva died at the hands of police in Bakersfield, California, this week, officers reportedly went to the homes of witnesses and demanded they turn over cell phones that had recorded footage of his beating.
Witnesses to the incident say police bullied and badgered them into giving up the footage they had taken of the incident, raising concerns among local civil rights activists.
Those witnesses said David Sal Silva died “begging for his life” as he struggled with as many as nine police officers.
The 33-year-old father of four died early Wednesday after officers responding to a report of an intoxicated man. Deputies say David Sal Silva fought with them and with California Highway Patrol officers, leading them to deploy a canine and use batons to subdue him. Silva had trouble breathing and was taken to a hospital, where he died.
But witnesses saw the incident differently. Many claimed that police continued to beat Silva with batons as he pleaded for help.
“When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head,” said Ruben Ceballos, a neighbor who was awakened by the sound of screaming.
A 911 call released by KERO television relayed the same scene that Ceballos saw.
The 911 call shows witness Sulina Quair saying, “There is a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the (expletive) out of him and killed him. I have it all on video camera. We videotaped the whole thing.”
This week the police are coming under scrutiny for how they responded to these witnesses. Civil rights activists claim that police violated their Fourth Amendment rights with intrusive searches for the footage they took of David Sal Silva’s death. Reports said that sheriff’s deputies knocked on the door of two witnesses at around 3 am on Wednesday demanding their cellphones.
The witnesses had already left the scene, but police went to their apartment to ask for their phones. Both refused to turn them over without a search warrant.
John Tello, a criminal law attorney representing the two witnesses who shot video footage and other witnesses to Silva’s death, said police would not let the two leave the apartment.
A male witness eventually gave up his phone “under duress” when he had to leave for work, but the female witness held out until close to noon, when police finally obtained a warrant.
“They were tired, scared, with a 9-year-old child there who was terrified,” Tello said.
Police had said they would not comment on the David Sal Silva case until an investigation was completed.