Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he has now watched a video of the beating incident, but said it remains too early to determine whether the deputies' actions played a role in the death of David Sal Silva.
Youngblood said that in the video, he could see deputies using their batons on Silva, who died May 8 about an hour after the altercation.
The FBI has opened an investigation into Silva’s death at Youngblood’s request after he discovered that one of two cellphones seized from witnesses did not have footage of the incidents that apparently had been recorded. Youngblood has asked the FBI to analyze the cellphones to determine what footage they contained and whether anything was deleted.
"I have seen the video," Youngblood said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "I cannot speculate whether they acted appropriately or not just by looking at the video."
The sheriff, however, acknowledged that there is a great deal of public concern about the incident and subsequent investigation.
"It is not just troubling to the public, it is not just troubling to news media, it is troubling to me," he said.
In an interview with The Times, he said the credibility of the department is at stake.
The department on Wednesday canceled a law enforcement day -- an open house that allowed the public inside. The department's website cited "recent events" for the decision.
Youngblood declined to give reporters a detailed analysis of the video.
"Baton strikes were used, but what I don't know is how many and where they were on the body and if they caused significant injury that caused death," he said.
Youngblood said the baton is a less lethal weapon and because of that its use doesn’t usually lead to deputies being placed on leave. But he said the head is not an appropriate place for a baton strike.
"Sometimes in the heat of battle, the baton doesn't go where you want it to go.... If someone has 20 baton strikes to the head, OK, that is easy for us. But when there is a fight or scuffle and a baton strike goes where it should not ... then you have to evaluate,” he explained.
Youngblood noted that no cause of death has been determined for Silva and that toxicology tests could take four months to be completed.
In interviews Tuesday, witnesses insisted that the videos on both phones — each several minutes long — clearly captured deputies repeatedly striking Silva with batons.
"They must have gotten rid of one of the videos," said Melissa Quair, 31, who told of seeing deputies pummel and kick Silva after confronting him across the street from Kern Medical Center in East Bakersfield.
Laura Vasquez, 26, a friend of the Quair family, said she also watched both videos — one shot by Quair's mother, the other by Quair's friend — and they vividly depicted the violence she witnessed.
Echoing the account of two other people interviewed, Vasquez said the first two deputies at the scene woke Silva, who was sleeping in front of a house, and ordered him not to move. When Silva sat up, looking confused or scared, a deputy hit him on the head, Vasquez said.
"He fell back and then the other officer got out and swung toward his head," she said. "Mr. Silva was reaching for his head and the officers said 'stop moving' and 'stop resisting.' He wasn't resisting.… He rolled on his back and they kept hitting."