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I WAS THERE: 'Without Video, You Don’t Have Much' - Chris Silva Recalls Fight for Answers After Brother in Bakersfield Dies During Encounter with Law Enforcement

Christopher Silva: My name is Christopher Silva. My brother is David Silva. He was two years older than me. We were raised in Bakersfield so we've always seen each other. We always talk to each other and we always somehow lived by each other. So we were close. 

On May 7th, 2013, I got a phone call from my dad. He told me that my brother passed away. It was all over the news at that point.

NEWS REPORTER: The Kern County Sheriff’s office has ruled that the in custody death of a Bakersfield man was accidental.

Christopher Silva: David went to the Kern Medical Hospital to look for help. He was third in line to be seen. He actually fell asleep on a patch of grass. Two security guards decided to wake him up. He was dead asleep, told him that he can’t be asleep on hospital premises. They escorted him across the street. He fell asleep again. These security guards called the non-emergency sheriff's hotline. A total of nine officers showed up.

And then all hell broke loose after that.

[MAN SCREAMING]

Christopher Silva: Canine attacked him. Batons were thrown. He’s basically put in a hog tie in his stomach. Officers pretty much laid on top of him for several minutes.

A witness said my brother was yelling because the police were hurting him. Another witness said they hit him with a baton. But they can hear his skull cracking. Another said they thought the police beat him to death. There are witnesses on scene who recorded my brother being beaten. 

WOMAN ON PHONE: There’s a man laying on the floor and your police officers the BEEP out of him and killed him.

Christopher Silva: Eventually, their videos were confiscated and those videos were deleted. So without video, you don't have much. No officer was found at fault for anything in my brother's case. 

The coroner concluded that my brother died of natural causes of hypertension, heart disease. Another pathologist concluded in our case, that it was most likely positional asphyxiation. 

A lot of people don't know sheriffs’ throughout California and throughout the nation are running corner’s offices, which is a lot of power. You know, if officers are involved in police brutality cases, there's a definite conflict of interest. There is a bill in 2018 to change a lot of what's happening now, but it was vetoed by Governor Brown.

Police brutality, especially in Kern County, was on my radar. In terms of activism, I wasn't woken up until my brother died.

Yeah, we protest a lot. We still do to this day. But to protest in Compton and Hollywood for black lives is important to me. It's important to my friends. It's more than just one life. It's about everyone.  We believe that this movement is going to get bigger and better. 

Bakersfield resident David Silva died the night of May 7, 2013 after a controversial struggle with seven deputies with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and two California Highway Patrol officers. His brother, Chris Silva, got the call that David had died after it was already the lead story on the local news. The death was ruled accidental and none of the officers were disciplined. In this episode of I WAS THERE, Silva reflects on his brother’s death, today’s police reform movement and what he says is a glaring conflict of interest among local sheriffs throughout California.

About the Series

"I WAS THERE" is about telling a great story. This series of first-person accounts breaks current and historical events down to human scale, carefully taking the viewer behind some of Southern California’s biggest headlines.

Production team

Executive Producer: Karen Foshay 

Producers: Tori Edgar, Denise Chan & Michael Ray 

Photographers: Trevor Jackson, Karen Foshay

Editor/Graphics: Michael Ray, Andy Viner

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