Witnesses who videotaped cops in Bakersfield, Calif., beating a 33-year-old father of four to death say police later confiscated the two cell phones containing footage and erased one of the videos.
As Maria Melendez, 53, left Kern Medical Center on May 8 she says she saw David Sal Silva being beaten by Kern County sheriff’s deputies. Hit with nightsticks, kicked, and kneed in the stomach and chest, Silva fell to the ground after eight minutes.
Melendez says that's when deputies shined flashlights in his eyes and attempted to administer CPR.
“He was like a piece of meat,” Melendez said. “We were telling them: ‘He’s dead. You guys already killed him.’”
Silva was admitted to Kern Medical Center and was pronounced dead less than an hour later at 12:44 a.m.
Police claim Silva was intoxicated and resisting arrest, so they hit him with batons.
Melendez and her daughter’s boyfriend taped most of the incident on their cell phones. She says police confiscated the phones without producing a warrant.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said the footage would be sent to the FBI for forensic examination.
One of the witnesses accused police of erasing the video on their phone, both of which were eventually given back to their attorney, John Tello.
“When I arrived at the home of one of the witnesses that had video footage,” Tello says, “she was with her family sitting down on the couch, surrounded by three deputies.
“This was not a crime scene where the evidence was going to be destroyed. These were concerned citizens who were basically doing a civic duty of preserving the evidence, not destroying it as [the sheriff deputies] tried to make it seem.”
David Cohn, an attorney for the Silva family, also believes one of the videos was erased. “It makes it look like a coverup,” Cohn said.
Police did obtain a warrant for the phone footage, which they said they will use to review police conduct.
“If there is evidence of wrongdoing on our behalf, we need to know about it,” Kern County Sgt. Daman McMinn said. “The videos were downloaded and handed back to the owners with all the information still intact.”
"I took the unprecedented step of asking the FBI to conduct a parallel investigation," Youngblood told the LA Times. "Our credibility is at stake here."
"It is not just troubling to the public, it is not just troubling to news media, it is troubling to me," Youngblood said of the Silva incident.
A 911 call from a witness named Lena, who also accuses police of beating Silva to death, was later uploaded to Youtube: