Deadly sheriff's beating prompts charges of coverup

The fatal beating of a 33-year-old man and the actions of Kern County sheriff’s deputies in its aftermath have led to claims of police brutality and an attempted coverup.

Times reporters Paul Pringle and Richard Winton will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the death of David Silva, who witnesses and attorneys said was hit repeatedly in the head by deputies even though he was prone on the pavement and posed no threat.

“I saw two sheriff’s deputies on top of this guy, just beating him,” said Ruben Ceballos, who saw the incident from his home. “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.”

A sheriff’s statement said Silva resisted when the deputies tried to restrain him, and they were forced to use their batons. Silva stopped breathing and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the statement said.

Sheriff’s officials later seized cellphones from people who had used them to shoot video of the altercation. In two cases, deputies detained the witnesses for hours until they agreed to hand over their phones, attorneys say.

“It makes it look like a coverup,” said David Cohn, a lawyer for Silva’s children and parents. “What we’re all concerned about is, ‘Are these videos going to be altered? Are they going to be deleted?’”

Sheriff Donny Youngblood said it was too early in the investigation to reach any conclusions about Silva’s death, but he defended the decision to confiscate the phones as a way of preserving possible evidence.

“We still have to secure the evidence, especially when the evidence can tell us whether we did it right or wrong,” Youngblood told The Times on Monday.