Last Tuesday, Maria Melendez witnessed a half-dozen sheriff's deputies fatally beating 33-year-old David Sal Silva—hitting him with clubs and kicking him— in Bakersfield, California outside Kern Medical Center. She began to film the scene on her phone, yelling to the cops that she was filming them.
Melendez, who had been visiting her son at the hospital, reported that the deputies beat Silva for eight minutes as he screamed and cried for help. He was "basically pleading for his life," said Laura Vasquez, another witness with Melendez. “Then we couldn’t see him anymore. That’s how many cops were on top of him.”
Then Silva went silent. A group of witnesses report the deputies "hogtied" the beaten man, lifted him up, and dropped him on the ground, twice. When he didn't respond, they began CPR.
Melendez said she had the entire episode recorded on her phone, as did her daughter's boyfriend. But before they could send the videos to media outlets, detectives from the sheriff's office took their phones, before warrants had arrived.
The seizure of the phones is sparking accusations of a cover up. A lawyer representing the family of David Sal Silva, says they want to file a federal civil rights complaint. He added that this "smacks of collusion."
The six deputies and the sergeant present for the encounter have been returned to full duty while the episode is investigated. A spokesman for the sheriff's office said the phones were taken with proper search warrants, so the Bakersfield Police Department can use these phones as part of the investigation.
The deputies say that they responded to a call and found Silva on the pavement. When they tried to wake him, there was the resulting altercation. He was pronounced dead in less than an hour.
Legal proceedings regarding the power to take phones and recording devices are still being sorted out as the new technology emerges. Jody Armour, a professor at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law, told the Times that following filmed beating of Rodney King, videos became agents of change. If recordings are confiscated, Armour said, "It could have a chilling effect on the willingness of bystanders to make these recordings, if they worry that they could be accosted by law enforcement.”