BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Kern County sheriff's deputies beat a man to death after finding him sleeping on a front lawn, the man's family claims in court.
Tara Garlick and four children sued Kern County, its Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Donny Youngblood and seven deputies in Federal Court for the wrongful death of David Sal Silva, the children's father.
Garlick describes herself in the complaint as Silva's "life partner," but she does not say if she is the children's mother.
The family claims the deputies used excessive force on Silva though he posed no threat to them, causing him to die of blunt force trauma.
"On May 17, 2013, a sheriff's deputy reported to a scene where a man was asleep on a front lawn," the complaint states. "Upon arrival the sheriff's deputy proceeded to knuckle-rub the sleeping man, causing the man to wake up in a panic. Immediately thereafter, this sheriff's deputy, along with five other sheriff's deputies and a sergeant, proceeded to strike this man with batons several times all over his body, while the man screamed in pain and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. At about this same time, a K-9 dog belonging to one of the sheriff's deputies attacked the man. Eventually, the officers hog-tied the man. After the repeated beating by the sheriff's deputies and biting by a deputy's K-9 dog, the man eventually stopped breathing. Nonetheless, the sheriff's deputies failed to immediately transport the man to a hospital despite the man's apparent inability to breathe. Finally, after a significant delay the man was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 12:44 a.m. on May 8, 2013."
The family claims the officers knew they were beating up Silva were "using deadly force upon [him] without adequate cause, reason or justification," then conspired to cover up what happened.
They also claim the Kern County Sheriff's Department sanctions the use of "excessive force assaults" by its deputies, through its policies and customs.
The family seeks punitive damages for conspiracy and violations of civil and constitutional rights.
They are represented by Daniel Rodriguez.
Here are the defendants: Kern County, Kern County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Sgt. Douglas Sword, and Deputies Ryan Greer, Tanner Miller, Jeffrey Kelly, Luis Almanza, Brian Brock and David Stephens.
According to the Bakersfield Californian, a witness who says she was 20 feet from where Silva died called 911 and claimed her mother captured the beating on her cell phone.
The witness told the Californian that sheriff's detectives "barged" into her sister's home later that day and demanded that her sister's boyfriend turn over his phone. The deputies had no search warrant, but the boyfriend cooperated with them to avoid being late for work, according to the newspaper.
The detectives then tracked down the witness's mother and demanded her phone as well, but she refused to hand it over until they produced a search warrant, the Californian reported.
David Cohn, the Silva family's attorney, asked the sheriff's department to release the videos, but Sheriff Youngblood refused because he said they were evidence in an ongoing investigation, according to the California.
Sheriff Youngblood told a different version of events at a May 23 press conference on.
Youngblood claimed that a pathologist ruled that Silva died as a result of falling, hypertensive heart disease, and complications from being drunk and high on methamphetamines and other drugs.
Youngblood claimed the deputies did not hit Silva in the head and neck, but only in places allowed by department policy. He said that only three deputies used their batons on Silva.
Youngblood claimed that Silva struggled against the deputy who woke him up and resisted attempts to get him to stand, so the deputy concluded that Silva was taking drugs and released the dog. Youngblood claimed Silva fought the deputies, who hit him with batons to subdue him and had to hog-tie him to gain control.
Youngblood questioned the credibility of the witnesses, particularly their claims that sheriff's detectives held them hostage in their homes until they surrendered their cell phones. He also criticized media coverage of the event, which he said "ignited the situation," according to the Californian.