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Kern County says heart disease, not beating, caused man's death

David Sal Silva, videotaped in an altercation with Kern County deputies, died of heart disease, not a beating, the coroner says.

May 23, 2013|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood holds a news conference on the beating of David Sal Silva.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood holds a news conference on the beating… (Alex Horvath / The Bakersfield…)

A man at the center of a videotaped altercation with Kern County sheriff's deputies earlier this month died from heart disease, not baton blows, authorities said Thursday.

The county coroner's office labeled David Sal Silva's death accidental, adding that the primary cause was hypertensive heart disease.

Videos taken by witnesses showed baton blows and a struggle between Silva and deputies.

But at a news conference Thursday in Bakersfield, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said those blows were mainly to his midsection and were not fatal. Silva also received a bite from a police dog.

Toxicology tests showed Silva had amphetamines and methamphetamines in his system and a blood alcohol level of 0.095%, the sheriff said.

Youngblood said Silva resisted deputies and tried to attack the dog.

The incident has received national attention, and the Sheriff's Office has asked the FBI to conduct a parallel investigation into Silva's death.

The attorney for the Silva family expressed deep skepticism about the autopsy findings, saying it's hard to believe the baton blows and dog bites did not in any way contribute to Silva's death.

"They're trying to say he died of natural causes," David Cohn told the Bakersfield Californian. "Who would believe that?"

Cohn did not return calls from The Times on Thursday.

Silva, 33, a father of four, was pronounced dead early May 8, within an hour of the altercation. Witnesses reported seeing several deputies repeatedly strike the man in the head with batons as he lay on the pavement. Youngblood said Thursday that there was no evidence Silva had head wounds.

Witnesses have said deputies beat Silva without cause.

One woman called 911, telling the operator: "The guy was laying on the floor and eight sheriffs ran up and started beating him up with sticks. The man is dead laying right here, right now. I got it all on video camera and I'm sending it to the news. These cops have no reason to do this to this man."

A grainy security video of the incident was broadcast on local television stations, but the images were hard to make out.

Youngblood announced last week that he asked the FBI to analyze two cellphones taken from witnesses who say they recorded the incident. The cellphones were taken after the witnesses were detained at a home. A search warrant was obtained to access the phones. The phones were turned over to Bakersfield police for analysis, Youngblood said.

During the news conference Thursday, Youngblood said only three deputies delivered blows to Silva, and none to the head or neck.

Youngblood said the first deputy to arrive found Silva lying on the ground and gave him a knuckle rub on the chest to try to wake him up.

According to the sheriff: Silva got up on his knees and then fell over on his face. When the deputy tried to help him up, Silva "took a rigid stance." The deputy warned Silva he would release a police dog on him if he did not cooperate. When Silva continued to resist, the deputy remotely released the dog from his cruiser. The dog bit Silva several times and bit the handler deputy as well, Youngblood said. Silva grabbed the dog by the throat.

More deputies arrived, and the struggle continued, the sheriff said, with officers eventually "hobbling" him by tying his ankles and wrists.

Youngblood had strong words about coverage of the case:

"I think the media caused a lot of this hysteria that occurred in this community," he said.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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