BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Kern County's sheriff is defending the seizure of cellphone video of deputies beating a man who later died.
David Sal Silva, 33, was beaten with batons last week in Bakersfield. The father of four died at a hospital.
Hours later, detectives confronted two witnesses who videotaped the confrontation and seized their mobile phones. On Monday, Sheriff Donny Youngblood told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/18HakRT ) that the phones were seized through a search warrant as part of the investigation.
"We still have to secure the evidence, especially when the evidence can tell us whether we did it right or wrong," Youngblood said.
He said that to avoid a conflict of interest, he has asked the Bakersfield Police Department to analyze the videos. The videos will be made public later, Youngblood told the Bakersfield Californian (http://bit.ly/17YAnCB ).
David Cohn, an attorney for Silva's children and parents, said his clients are concerned that the videos might be erased or destroyed, either accidentally or on purpose. He has not seen them.
"If I'd heard that they'd given them to the FBI, ok," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "But the Bakersfield Police Department, whom they work with on a daily basis? It certainly doesn't have the look of impartiality."
Cohn said the Sheriff's Department went "well beyond a reasonable search" in obtaining the videos, making no effort to ask for copies or voluntary cooperation from the witnesses.
"They held these people hostage for several hours pending the serving of a search warrant. I've never heard of that before," he said.
Melissa Quair told the Californian that two sheriff's detectives went to her home to confiscate her boyfriend's video of the beating, blocking the door to her apartment.
"They used more force than was needed, and I told them that they didn't have permission to say who could go in or out of my house," Quair said.
The detectives later confronted her mother, Maria Melendez, outside her daughter's home and ordered her to turn over her phone.
"My mom is disabled and has a lot of doctor and medical numbers stored in her phone," Quair said. "But the detectives didn't care, and they told my mom to write all her contacts down on a piece of paper, and while she did, they watched her like hawks."
Silva died May 8. Deputies said he fought them after they approached him about complaints that someone in the area was intoxicated. Six deputies, a sergeant and two California Highway Patrol officers were at the scene. Silva was beaten with batons, stopped breathing and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
"I saw two sheriff's deputies on top of this guy, just beating him," Ruben Ceballos told the Times. "He was screaming in pain . asking for help. He was incapable of fighting back -- he was outnumbered, on the ground. They just beat him up."
Coroner's officials have not determined the cause of Silva's death pending toxicology and other tests.
It is common to place law enforcement officers on paid leave during investigations of arrest-related deaths, but the Californian reported the deputies involved remain on duty.
"We're following the same protocol, as far as the administrative process is concerned, that we'd follow in similar-type incidents," sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said.