Kern County sheriffs seize cell phones to hide killing of citizen

Rodney-King-beatingMay 14, 2013

By John Seiler

Cops are getting out of control, especially in California. Not yet two years since the Fullerton police beat to death homeless man Kelly Thomas on July 5, 2011, comes this:

“Blood stains are still visible on the sidewalk at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive, where a Bakersfield man struggled with as many as nine officers and later died this week.

“David Sal Silva, 33 and the father of four young children, died early Wednesday morning after deputies say he fought with them and CHP officers who’d responded to a report of a possibly intoxicated man outside Kern Medical Center.

“The Kern County Sheriff’s Office says Silva resisted, a canine was deployed, more law enforcement arrived, batons were used and the man later had trouble breathing. He was taken to KMC, where he died. An autopsy was slated for Thursday, but no results have been released.

“Some witnesses apparently took cellphone video of the incident but deputies moved quickly to seize the phones. The Sheriff’s Office, after releasing a statement Wednesday and naming its officers Thursday, declined all further comment.

“People who say they witnessed the incident as well as Silva’s family members described a scene in which deputies essentially were beating a helpless man to death. They were indignant that cellphone video had been taken away by deputies.

“‘My brother spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading, begging for his life,’ said Christopher Silva, 31, brother of the dead man. He said he’s talked to witnesses but did not see the incident himself.

“At about midnight, Ruben Ceballos, 19, was awakened by screams and loud banging noises outside his home. He said he ran to the left side of his house to find out who was causing the ruckus.

“‘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,’ Ceballos said.

“Silva was on the ground screaming for help, but officers continued to beat him, Ceballos said.

“After several minutes, Ceballos said, Silva stopped screaming and was no longer responsive.’

‘Police Tape’ app

Let’s hope one of the cell-phone videos somehow survived seizure by the Kern Sheriffs-Stasi. Also, the Kern Medical Center might have surveillance cameras that could be subpoenaed by Silva’s family. And someone in the hospital itself might have taken pictures without the Stasi seeing them.

If you’re ever in a similar situation, this shows the importance of immediately posting your photos to Facebook or somewhere else. We’re 22 years now from the video-taped beating of Rodney King (shown above), and most people have phones with cameras.

Also, the ACLU of New Jersey has released a free “Police Tape” app for Android and iPhones. According to the description:

“Citizens can hold police accountable in the palms of their hands with “Police Tape,” a smartphone application from the ACLU of New Jersey that allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police, as well as provide legal information about citizens’ rights when interacting with the police.

“The Android “Police Tape” app records video and audio discreetly, disappearing from the screen once the recording begins to prevent any attempt by police to squelch the recording. In addition to keeping a copy on the phone itself, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations….

“The popularity of cellphones with video capabilities has raised legal questions about the rights of citizens to record in public. Fortunately, the courts have sided with citizens. In May 2012, a federal appeals court struck down an Illinois law that had made it illegal for citizens to record police officers on-duty. Also in May 2012, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released a letter affirming the constitutional rights to record the police in public. These two developments came on the heels of a landmark ruling in August 2011, which recognized the right of citizens to record police officers after a Massachusetts man in Boston Common was wrongfully arrested for filming an interaction with a police officer.”


So the Kern Stasi’s seizure of the phones was completely unconstitutional. That could generate further lawsuits against the county for violations of citizens’ rights. The seizures violated not only the Fourth Amendment “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The seizures also violated the First Amendment right of “freedom of… the press,” because in this age of Facebook and blogs, everyone is a journalist.

Finally, as I mentioned in my previous blog on a new private Detroit program, police need to be re-trained from their current mode of beating and shooting first, to the old one of first protecting the lives of citizens — even at the risk of their own lives.

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