Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claim against City of Bakersfield on behalf of teenager beaten, falsely arrested by police

August 30, 2017 | 3:50 pm


Tatyana Hargrove, an African-American teenage victim of police brutality this summer in a case that received national attention, has filed a legal claim against the City of Bakersfield and its police officers.

Hargrove, her parents, and her attorneys from Chain | Cohn | Stiles hosted a press conference to discuss the claim, and excessive force case that has received national attention, and answered questions about how this experience has affected her and what she hopes to achieve through civil court.

Hargrove was riding her bicycle on June 18 in southwest Bakersfield in search of a Father’s Day gift when Bakersfield Police Department officers stopped and detained her at gunpoint. In the course of the encounter, Hargrove was punched and kneed in the face and bitten severely by a police dog. The police officers claimed they mistook her for a male suspect. Hargrove – who is 19 years old, 5-feet, 2-inches tall, and weighs 120 pounds – suffered major face and leg injuries, in addition to the obvious emotional trauma.

Police initially charged her with resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, interfering with a peace officer’s animal, and resisting an executive officer. On Aug. 2, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office dismissed all charges against her. A video produced by the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP regarding the incident has garnered nearly 8 million and attracted national media attention.

“What happened to Tatyana Hargrove is a serious injustice, but perhaps what is even more troubling is that this appears to be a pattern of conduct by the Bakersfield Police Department,” said attorney Neil K. Gehlawat of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, who is representing Hargrove. “This case is not just about obtaining justice for Tatyana, but about confronting these wider problems.”

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INCIDENT / VIDEO MEDIA COVERAGE

INVESTIGATION / RALLY / BAKERSFIELD POLICE APOLOGY MEDIA COVERAGE

CHARGES DROPPED MEDIA COVERAGE

CLAIM FILED / PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files wrongful death claim on behalf of family of man who died while in Lemoore police custody

March 29, 2017 | 9:12 am


The family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers, announced the filing of a wrongful death claim against the City of Lemoore.

Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the Hill family in their  wrongful death claim.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

Hill’s family has many unanswered questions about the death of their loved one, which they believe to have been avoidable and preventable. They don’t understand why Hill couldn’t have been taken safely into custody without killing him.

“Donald, or ‘Donnie’ as he was affectionately known, was a young and vibrant man who had much of his life ahead of him,” his family said in a statement. “Donnie was blessed with a warm smile and calm, easy-going spirit. Those who knew him best would tell you he always treated people with love and respect. He cared for his family and friends very deeply, and was a constant fixture in the lives of his mother, brothers, nieces, nephews and many close friends. His sudden loss hurts us all to the core. We’ve all been left with an empty feeling since his passing and the events surrounding his death make it harder to move on.”

Added Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat during a March 23 press conference in front of Lemoore City Hall after the filing the claim: “Officers went to the scene of the home on Pine Court and Mr. Hill was restrained by officers with the Lemoore Police Department. And as a result of being restrained and having a spit mask put on his face and being handcuffed, he ultimately died. The question in our mind is what caused the heart to stop beating . And we have a strong suspicion that the conduct that led up to Mr. Hill’s passing is what caused his heart to stop.

He continued: “The purpose of us filing this claim and the purpose of us filing this lawsuit is the search for the truth.”

Prior to working for the Navy, Hill served as a Coast Guard civilian for two years in Alaska. Hill was a member of the Lemoore High School football and baseball teams, and also played squadron sports while working for the Navy and Coast Guard.

Kings County Sheriff’s Office and Kings County Multi-Agency Critical Incident Team is continuing their investigation. The claim is being filed on behalf of the mother of Donald Hill, Diane Hill, who is represented by Gehlawat of Chain | Cohn | Stiles as well as Thomas C. Seabaugh of The Law Office of Thomas C. Seabaugh.

These attorneys represented the family of David Silva, who died in police custody under similar circumstances in Bakersfield.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Sexual harassment in the workplace persists, but with the law on the victim’s side

February 15, 2017 | 8:48 am


The following article written by Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyer Neil Gehlawat appeared in the February-March 2017 issue of the Kern Business Journal. To view the PDF print version of the Kern Business Journal click here, and read the entire publication, click here

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Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, still a prevalent occurrence in the workplace.

According to a recent study conducted at the South by Southwest conference in 2016, two-thirds of women reported having experienced “unwanted sexual attention” at work. Moreover, a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is evidently more prevalent in the service industry, where a 2014 survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 90 percent of women feel forced to “curry favor” with their customers when working for tips.

Even worse, 70 percent of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace do not report for fear of repercussions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is a disappointing statistic, because there are laws in place both in California and in the United States to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, applies to both public and private employers and prohibits sexual harassment against employees, applicants, volunteers, unpaid interns and even contractors in the workplace. You can file a complaint online by visiting the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) website, but it is recommended that you contact an attorney before making such a complaint. The statute of limitations in California requires employees to obtain a right to sue notice letter from the DFEH within one year of the alleged harassment. The employee then has one year from the date of the right to sue notice letter to file a lawsuit.

Moreover, the FEHA requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees. The FEHA department permits employees to submit complaints if they have reason to believe that their employer has not complied with this requirement.

Sexual harassment is also prohibited under federal law. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can range from inappropriate sexual jokes, to inappropriate touching. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically protects employees from sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, in the workplace and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

I advise victims of sexual harassment to take the following steps.

  • First, tell the person harassing you to stop. You may do so in person, but you should also put your request in writing; for example, in the form of an email.
  • If this does not work, or if you are uncomfortable about taking such action, consult your employment manual. You need to follow the protocol laid out in the employment manual, if it exists.
  • If it does not exist, you should notify your human resources department or your supervisor, and inform them – in person, and in writing – about the sexual harassment. If the harassment persists, even despite taking the above steps, then you should contact an attorney immediately to weigh your options.

It is illegal under both state and federal law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, document your complaints in writing, take action, and always remember that the law is on your side.

Neil Gehlawat is a partner with the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where he focuses on civil rights, employment and wrongful death cases.

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If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed on the job, or has been wrongful terminated, please call the employment lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles right away at (661) 323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE / RELATED ARTICLES

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of two students wrongfully arrested by Bakersfield police

February 1, 2017 | 9:35 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the Bakersfield Chapter of NAACP announced the filing of government claims for wrongful arrest, excessive force and racial profiling against the city of Bakersfield and Bakersfield Police Department on behalf of two local college students.

After a night of studying on Dec. 5, Bakersfield College students Timothy Grismore, 21, and Xavier Hines, 19, were walking on the sidewalk on their way to get something to eat at Taco Bell when an unmarked patrol car approached them on Valhalla Drive, behind West High School, and shined lights on them. Two individuals, who later identified themselves as police officers, asked if Grismore and Hines were on probation or parole, and began to search them. The officers then slammed Grismore on the ground and struck him with batons, after he asked why he was being searched. He suffered bruises on his body and needed stitches to close wounds on his face and. Both young men were detained overnight.

The Kern County District Attorney’s Office refused to file charges against them, stating the young men violated no laws, and the officers had no right to stop the two, search them or detain them.

“There was no reason whatsoever for these two young men to be stopped, let alone assaulted and detained overnight,” said Neil K. Gehlawat, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for Grismore and Hines. “But perhaps what is most troubling is that the actions of these officers that night appeared to be racially motivated. The officers did what they did because they believed that Timothy and Xavier were affiliated with a gang – a conclusion we feel they reached only because the two young men were black.”

The announcement of the filing of the claim comes one month after the state Attorney General’s Office announced its civil rights investigation into the “pattern and practice” of excessive force by local law enforcement.

With the help of NAACP Bakersfield, the young men posted a video discussing the wrongful arrest, which has garnered nearly 250,000 views on the organization’s Facebook page.

The night of the claim filing, NAACP Bakersfield Chapter President Patrick Jackson — along with Hines, Grismore and members of the community — rallied and spoke at the Bakersfield City Council meeting.

The case is ongoing.

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UPDATE

The FBI began investigating the case in January. Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian he doesn’t think it’s at all common for the FBI to conduct investigations like this. Hines and Grismore were interviewed by agents.

“I imagine they would be looking to see if there was any criminal conduct on the part of any of the parties,” Gehlawat told The Californian. “We’re obviously hopeful they’ll find some wrongdoing on the part of the officers because we think that all the evidence from that night suggests these officers had no reason to ever apprehend Xavier or Timothy, let alone physically assault them.”

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MEDIA COVERAGE — ARREST/VIDEO

MEDIA COVERAGE — CLAIM FILED

UPDATES

5 notable case results from 2016 include motorcycle accident, civil rights, car accident cases

January 18, 2017 | 10:16 am


With 2017 just beginning, we wanted to take a look back at some noteworthy case results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

 

$10 million — Motorcycle Accident 

In June 2014, 27-year-old John Doe was riding his motorcycle in the Oildale area. At that same moment, Doe Defendant was driving a mobile crane while in the course and scope of his employment with Doe Crane Company. He pulled out of a driveway and directly into the path of John Doe’s motorcycle, who was unable to avoid the collision. As a result, John Doe suffered catastrophic injuries, and after undergoing surgical procedures, he lost his right leg. Later, the plaintiff complained of impaired memory, concentration and behavioral alterations, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, pain, weakness and numbness in all extremities, and phantom leg pain.

David K. Cohn of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented John Doe.

The law firm argued that the crane company negligently entrusted, supervised, and trained the driver, and also did not properly maintain the property, which created a dangerous condition that blocked views of employees from exiting the facility. Additionally, the company failed to terminate the driver, who had a blood alcohol level of .02 or above.

In early 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled the motorcyclist accident case for $10 million.

 

$3.4 million — Civil Rights / Wrongful Death

On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013. Attorneys Neil Gehlawat and David Cohn represented the family.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached by Silva’s family for $3.4 million. To read a full chronology of events from the case, click here.

 

$2.25 million — Car Accident 

Ms. Vargas was riding as a passenger in a car when a 2004 Ford Escape rear-ended her vehicle while stopped at a stop sign in Porterville, and suffered severe injuries as a result. The driver of the Ford Escape was in the course and scope of her employment with defendant VNZ Payroll Services.

Matthew Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Vargas, who suffered severe personal injuries including fractured acetabulum, facial lacerations and scars, neck and back pain and a traumatic brain injury, confirmed by CT and MRI studies.

In July, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled Vargas’ car accident case for $2.25 million.

 

$1.5 million — Rear-End / Car Accident 

Ms. Contreras was on her way home from a family function when she stopped at a red light at 24th Street approaching Buck Owens Boulevard. At that time, she was rear-ended by Stephen Domingue, who was in Bakersfield on business for Mason Specialty Tools, LLC.

The force of the impact was sufficient to push Contreras’ vehicle in the rear end of the vehicle in front of her. Domingue was found to be at fault by the Bakersfield Police Department for unsafe speed for prevailing conditions. As a result of the collision, Contreras suffered personal injuries, including traumatic disc herniation, and retained Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The accident exacerbated Contreras’ lumbar spine disease and hastened the need for surgery and the need for early medical retirement. Doctors advised she would have some pain and limitations for the rest of her life. In 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved her personal injury case for $1.5 million.

 

$1 million — Police Misconduct / Sexual Abuse  

This case arises out of the sexual assault of plaintiff Jane Doe in her Tehachapi home by Defendant Gabriel Lopez while in the course and scope of his employment with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the County of Kern. Lopez is currently serving time in prison for the acts committed against plaintiff (and another victim).

As a result of the sexual assault, plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She did not feel comfortable discussing the incident for approximately one year after the incident due to feelings of embarrassment and repression. Plaintiff’s expert psychologist has diagnosed her with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, based on her interviews with Plaintiff and psychological testing conducted.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented the sexual assault victim, and in 2016 resolved her case for $1 million.

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For more results and case information, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles website at Chainlaw.com.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

These results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files civil rights lawsuit in police shooting that local paralyzed man

September 14, 2016 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the May 20, 2016, edition of The Bakersfield Californian related to an excessive force lawsuit that was filed against the City of Bakersfield and two officers of the Bakersfield Police Department by the Civil Rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

 

Homeless man sues after police shooting

By Steven Mayer

The Bakersfield Californian

Adding to a long string of lawsuits being filed against local law enforcement, a 19-year-old man paralyzed from the waist down after being shot last year by a Bakersfield police officer who found him sleeping in his car is suing the officers involved and the City of Bakersfield.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Tuesday — exactly one year after the incident in question — claims the plaintiff, Gilberto Fajardo, “was asleep, unarmed, and did not pose a threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone” on the evening of May 17, 2015, when he was approached in a church parking lot by Bakersfield Police Officers Lindy DeGeare and Juan Orozco.

“It’s very tragic,” said Fajardo’s attorney, Neil Gehlawat, of the Bakersfield law firm Chain Cohn Stiles. “We’re talking about a very young kid who is now paralyzed for the rest of his life.”

Fajardo was essentially homeless at the time. While he was often able to stay with siblings, that night he was left with only one option, sleeping in his car.

“He was there because he believed the safest place he could sleep was in a church parking lot,” Gehlawat said.

Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said Friday she was aware the lawsuit had been filed, but the city had not been served with it.

As soon as the city is served, the case will go to outside counsel, Gennaro said. She noted there will certainly be two sides to the story.

According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, the front driver’s-side window was rolled down about three inches when officers arrived at the church lot in the 600 block of Planz Road for a “check the welfare” call.

The complaint says Orozco and DeGeare began yelling profanities at the plaintiff, who awoke “startled and perplexed.”

Orozco broke off both the driver’s-side and passenger-side door handles, then “proceeded to bash in the front windshield of plaintiff’s vehicle after plaintiff turned on his vehicle,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit continues: “DeGeare then shot plaintiff multiple times while he was in the vehicle. One of her shots pierced plaintiff’s spine, causing him to become paralyzed instantly from the waist down.”

No longer in control of his body, the plaintiff’s foot collapsed on the accelerator, causing his vehicle to slam into a nearby van, it said.

According to the timeline, the two officers then dragged Fajardo from the vehicle and onto the pavement, jumped on him, kneed him and handcuffed him, causing further injuries.

The following July, a BPD Critical Incident Review Board cleared DeGeare in the shooting. She was returned to full duty.

According to a BPD investigation, the incident unfolded when DeGeare and Orozco came upon a vehicle backed into a parking stall surrounded by large vans on each side and across the parking access lane.

Fajardo was in the driver’s seat slumped over the steering wheel.

The vehicle was not running and the driver’s-side front window was lowered several inches, the BPD said.

There were no license plates on the vehicle; a license plate found in the dash returned to a different make and model vehicle, the department said. It was unclear if the vehicle was stolen.

Plaintiff’s attorneys say it was not, and Fajardo was not charged with auto theft.

According to the BPD’s timeline, officers woke Fajardo, identified themselves and asked him to step out of the vehicle.

“During their several minute conversation with Fajardo, the officers ordered him to exit the vehicle numerous times and he refused,” police said in a news release.

Fajardo rolled up his window, started the vehicle, revved the engine and rapidly accelerated out of the parking stall, police said.

DeGeare, who was on the driver’s side, lost sight of Orozco, who was on the passenger side, the BPD said.

“Believing her partner had been or was being run over, she fired her duty firearm at Fajardo, striking him,” police said in the release.

Fajardo hit a van that was parked across the parking access lane from where he was initially parked. Fajardo was taken to Kern Medical Center for treatment.

DeGeare and Orozco were not hurt. Adding insult to injury, Gehlawat said, Fajardo was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being the vehicle.

Should he be convicted in criminal court, it could bar the civil case from moving forward, Gehlawat said. Should Fajardo be acquitted, it could open the possibility of a malicious prosecution claim.

 

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If you or someone you know has been a victim of police misconduct, excessive force or had your civil rights violated,  call the Bakersfield police misconduct lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

Recently, the civil rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death, civil rights case that garnered international media attention. The case of David Sal Silva, in which he was beaten to death by law enforcement officers, settled for $3.4 million. Click here to learn more about this case.

— Compiled by Marisol Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ – Chain | Cohn | Stiles comments on local federal case backlog

June 1, 2016 | 8:32 am


There’s an old legal principle hundreds of years old that states, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

In Kern County and the Central Valley, where the federal justice moves slower than it does anywhere else in the United States, justice for many residents can take years to realize.

In fact, according to a new Eyewitness News report, a three-year wait for a civil case is not uncommon in the Central Valley. Nationwide, the average civil case takes 26.8 months to finish. In the Eastern District of our circuit court, the average is 37.8 months.

The waits are the product of a case backlog years in the making, according to the news report. And Bakersfield civil rights attorney Neil Gehlawat — of the accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles — told Eyewitness News that this is an issue local residents should be concerned about.

Gehlawat and other Chain | Cohn | Stiles represent victims of civil rights cases, including police misconduct, wrongful death and sexual abuse cases.

“The problem is that people are not made aware of it until they have to be a part of the system,” Gehlawat said. “When they are a part of the system, they get frustrated.”

The average judge in the Central Valley has 1,200 pending cases at any given time, and the federal judicial system has not kept up with the rapidly growing population in the Central Valley, according to Eyewitness News.

For many Kern County residents who must deal with the federal court system, a trip to Fresno or even Sacramento, has been necessary. In fact, as many as a third of civil cases in Fresno were passed to Sacramento, according to Eyewitness News.

The travel can present a considerable burden to all involved in the system, Gehlawat told Eyewitness News.

“That creates more expense,” he said. “It’s difficult for the clients, for them to get there, to leave their homes, their jobs that are important to them and their lives and have to travel two hours or four, five hours away to get their day in court.”

Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles helped settle a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit that was filed in federal court. That case, which received international attention was brought against local law enforcement departments by the family of David Sal Silva, who was beaten and killed by officers.

Three years after the May 2013 death and lawsuit, and just one week before a scheduled trial, the Silva family received justice when it settled the case for $3.4 million.

The federal court backlog in Kern County is a problem not lost on Kern County’s political officials, who agree that our area needs more judges, but Republicans and Democrats blame each other for not being able to solve the problem, according to Eyewitness News.

In the meantime, justice for some in Kern County will be a waiting game.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

If you or someone you know feels their civil rights have been violated, contact the Kern County civil rights attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.

The wrongful death case of David Sal Silva

May 18, 2016 | 7:41 am


On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013, to the settlement reached in May 2016.

Below is a chronological order of events and media coverage in the death and civil case of David Sal Silva.

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‘BEGGING FOR HELP’

Early reports from law enforcement officials claimed officers struggled with a man in his 30s for eight minutes in front of a home on the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive in east Bakersfield. Officers used batons and a K-9 unit before officers noticed the man was struggling to breath, called an ambulance, which rushed him across the street to Kern Medical Center emergency room. He would die shortly after.

The man was David Sal Silva, 33, a father of four.

Local media soon after reported a total of seven Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputies, including a K-9, and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived to the scene. They struck Silva with batons, released the K-9 on him, took him to the ground, restrained him and handcuffed him.

Immediately, witnesses stepped forward and described the incident.

“I watched a man deliberately murdered in my face,” one man who did not want to be identified told KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News. “I see an officer and the K9 dog, with a man detained on the ground, and the man was screaming for help … They were just sitting on him. And the guys, they were holding him down and punching him, too … He wasn’t resisting. He was begging for help, and begging for his life.”

Besides witness statements, media also reported audio and video documented the beating.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATED

Surveillance video obtained by KERO-23 News after the beating death showed Silva being repeatedly beaten with a stick while more law enforcement officers arrive.

A 911 call, too, helped document the incident.

“There is a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the (expletive) out of him and killed him,” the caller tells dispatchers. “I have it all on video camera. We videotaped the whole thing.”

“He was like a piece of meat,” the caller later told Los Angeles Times. “We were telling them: ‘He’s dead. You guys already killed him.'”

Details also emerged of how officers took witness cell phones that contained videos of officers beating Silva, hogtying him, lifting him and dropping him twice. Witnesses described how they were essentially harassed and held kept captive inside their own home by officers until they released their phones, without a search warrant being presented. Officers promised to return phones the next day, but were told when they inquired about their phones that the Sheriff’s Department was keeping the phone until the investigation was over.

At the same time, the Silva family reached out to and obtained the representation of Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“I have two grieving parents and one grieving brother who want to see the body of their son and brother,” David K. Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles told news media. “But we will get to the bottom of this and I ask the sheriff’s department, once again, what are you hiding?”

The public feared a cover up by law enforcement officials was in the making, media reported. Chain | Cohn | Stiles would plan to file a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of the family.

Meanwhile, Silva’s family mourned his death.

“I can’t believe this happened,” David’s father Sal Silva told The Bakersfield Californian at his vigil, sobbing while kneeling down and touching the blood stains left on the sidewalk from the incident. “My son was a family man who loved his kids and family and in the back of my mind I still hold on to the possibility that the body we haven’t seen, might not be my son.”

The beating death of David Silva brought back memories for many of the infamous Rodney King beating, in addition to other high-profile deaths of minorities at the hands of law enforcement. The coverage would continue for years.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

PHONES & THE FBI

Fears that police were attempting to cover up details of the beating death of David Silva grew as Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood revealed that video evidence expected to be found on one of two cell phones confiscated from witnesses was not present on the phone.

The phones were handed over to the Bakersfield Police Department for examination, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was also called upon for a “parallel investigation.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

PROTESTS & LOST TRUST 

The beating death of Silva at the hands of police, subsequent phone confiscation, missing videos and other civil rights violations resulted in protests throughout Kern County.

Protesters stood in front of the Kern County Superior Court and held signs that read, “protection of our rights” and “stop police brutality.”

“I believe in my heart that someone has to investigate this and find out why it happened and why it’s been happening, please, just give my brother justice,” Chris Silva, David Silva’s brother, told The Bakersfield Californian.

On May 20, 2013, attorneys for the witnesses who had their phones confiscated and returned by investigators released video footage that showed the final moments of Silva’s life as he screamed while officers held him down.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

‘ACCIDENTAL’ DEATH 

On May 23, 2013, Sheriff Donny Youngblood called the death of David Silva “accidental” due to heart disease, according to a department he leads, the Kern County Coroner’s Office. Youngblood also slammed media for sending “shockwaves all across the United States” in the case.

“They’re trying to say he died of natural causes,” David Cohn told The Bakersfield Californian. “Who would believe that?”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CLAIMS, LAWSUITS FILED

In June 2013, Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the Silva family filed wrongful death and federal civil rights claims claim against the nine officers involved in Silva’s death, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Kern County, and the state of California.

The complaint sought damages on behalf of David Silva’s four young children, his significant other, his parents and his brother, for the loss of love, affection, society, service, comfort, support, right of support, expectations of future support and counseling, companionship, solace and mental support, as well as other benefits and assistance of David Silva.

“David Sal Silva was a loving young man who cared deeply for his family and his four young children,” David Cohn said in a statement to media. “On May 7, 2013, David died as a result of unreasonable and excessive force used by nine law enforcement officials, who repeatedly struck him with batons and hog-tied him despite his numerous cries for help. Those cries will forever be heard by his family, and in particular his four children, who will now have to grow up without their father. While this lawsuit will certainly not undo what happened, my hope is that it will serve as a catalyst for serious change amongst local law enforcement agencies. It is time that we put this longstanding ‘strike first, ask questions later’ culture to rest once and for all.”

A month later, local media described inconsistencies between information provided by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and information found in the Kern County Coroner’s autopsy report, including the use of the hogtie restraint. The tactic has been banned altogether by law enforcement agencies, including the Bakersfield Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Cohn stated the manner by which Silva was restrained may have played a role in Silva’s death by causing “positional asphyxiation.”

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NO CRIMINAL CHARGES

In April 2014, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced that her office would not be seeking criminal charges against the law enforcement officers involved in the death of David Silva.

“This is the reason we need an independent advisory panel evaluating these types of cases,” David Cohn said in a statement at the time. “Kern County District Attorney’s Office personnel work with these agencies every day, and they’re the ones in charge of prosecuting cases for them. Apparently, the way it works in Kern County is that unless they catch the officers red-handed, nothing will happen. It appears that they look for ways not to prosecute.

“Given that we do not have an independent panel in place to investigate, that’s the reason we filed a lawsuit in this case on behalf of the Silva family. Through this lawsuit, we believe the truth will come out. We have the ability to question these officers under oath. We’ll be more thorough in this investigation than any investigation that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office has done thus far. We won’t just rely on the investigative reports prepared by the Sheriff’s office, which are self-serving, one-sided versions of the events leading up to David Silva’s tragic death.”

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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY 

Dozens chanted for justice in downtown Bakersfield on the one-year anniversary of Silva’s death, including representatives from Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“We remain committed to obtaining justice on behalf of David and his entire family, especially his four children, who will be without a father for the rest of their lives,” attorney David Cohn said on the date. “The road to obtaining justice will be a difficult one; however, we are confident that in the end, the truth will prevail and justice will be done. This case is certainly about David Silva and about what happened to him, but it is also about much more than that. It is about changing the culture of local law enforcement in this community, and holding law enforcement officers who use unreasonable and excessive force accountable for their actions.”

Protests and rallies would continue throughout Kern County.

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CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION 

In late October, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Civil Rights Division determined there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a federal criminal prosecution of officers involved in the death of David Sal Silva, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the investigation was closed.

“To maintain the public’s trust and fulfill the high obligations undertaken by all law enforcement, it is critical that we diligently evaluate such allegations,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. “We undertook a careful evaluation of the evidence in this case, and we appreciate the assistance we received, particularly from our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I extend my condolences to the entire Silva family for the loss they suffered with the tragic passing of Mr. Silva.”

The Silva family now looked to the civil courts for justice.

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PROTESTS FOR CHANGE

In the months and several deaths at the hands of police throughout the United States — Michael Brown in Furguson, Miss. and Eric Garner in New York — sparked protests and riots nationwide. In Bakersfield, police shot unarmed Ramiro James Villegas (James De La Rosa) in November 2014, which helped advance the chants for more accountability locally. In Kern County, the Silva family led the charge.

“Police brutality is an issue here and we won’t let it go away,” Chris Silva said at a December 2014 rally.

In March 2015, hundreds of family members, friends and supporters of people who have lost loved ones in confrontations with local law enforcement took to the streets of Bakersfield in a march that revisited the scenes of some of the deaths, including the scene of the death of David Silva.

“I’m here to support the Silva family and all the other families who have lost loved ones because of mistakes made by the police,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian. “We’re not saying all police officers are bad people,” Gehlawat said. “But on occasion, police officers cross the line, and when that happens it’s important the officer be held accountable so that it doesn’t happen again to another family.”

In July, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office announced it would be reviewing all officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, and all uses of force resulting in death, for all law enforcement agencies throughout Kern County. Protesters contended the DA’s office has already shown that it cannot provide truly independent oversight of the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

‘AMERICA’S DEADLIEST POLICE’ 

In December 2015, The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States —unveiled its five-part series that examines the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

Among the cases highlighted by The Guardian was the death of David Sal Silva, and other Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil rights and wrongful death cases. The series featured how the brutal tactics of officers in Kern County have ended lives, cost the public millions, and prompted claims of a police force out of control.

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TRIAL 

In March 2016, a federal judge refused to dismiss most claims, including those involving allegations of excessive force and wrongful death, in the lawsuit filed against Kern County in the death of David Silva.

“This is a resounding victory for us because the judge ruled in our favor in almost all of the claims, both federal and state,” attorney Neil Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian. “We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling in that respect, and believe his ruling is consistent with the evidence in the case.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles worked together on the civil case with the Law Offices of Dale Galipo, as a lead trial attorney. The trial was set to begin in U.S. District Court in Fresno on May 12, 2016.

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SETTLEMENT

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached for $3.4 million.

“The settlement today, nearly three years to the date of Silva’s death, is a vindication of a three-year campaign by the Silva family for justice, which brought national and international media attention to police brutality in Bakersfield,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles said in a statement announcing the settlement.

Attorneys from Chain | Cohn | Stiles and Law Offices of Dale Galipo hosted a press conference for media on May 5, 2016, along with Silva’s family. You can watch the complete press conference here.

“This case is now over, and this settlement is a bittersweet end to a long journey to achieving justice,” said attorney Neil Gehlawat during the press conference. “It’s bitter in that David is not here with us, and he is not here today to be a father to his children, to be a brother, to be a son. But it’s sweet because we know that the money that we’ve obtained in this case is going to go a long way to helping David’s children secure a bright future.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

Annual march focuses on rights of victims of crimes, injustices in Kern County

April 13, 2016 | 9:23 am


One victim is a woman who was sexually assaulted by the very person in charge of protecting her and other citizens in our community, a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy. Another woman was struck and killed by a drunk driver as she walked home. Any yet another victim was beaten to death by several law enforcement officers.

They are victims whose civil cases are represented by attorney from the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, but they all have one thing in common. Those directly involved in these cases, and their families, are all considered victims of crimes and injustices, and were represented at the fourth annual Victims’ Rights March.

“It’s important to honor the memories of these victims, and it’s equally important to speak out against the injustices these victims have faced,” said David Cohn, managing partner of the injury, accident and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The march, organized by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, began at 5 p.m. Tuesday (April 12) at the Liberty Bell in front of Kern County Superior Court and continued toward Mill Creek Park in downtown Bakersfield. The theme for this year’s march was “Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope.” The march was followed by a candlelight vigil.

The march is also part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, established by Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“I think a lot of the criminal justice system is focused on the rights of the accused, as it should be, but sometimes victims’ rights get lost in all of that, and I think victims feel like they’re overlooked or ignored,” said Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green on KBAK-29. “So this is just an event where people can come together with other people who have suffered similar losses.”

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys continue day in and day out to fight civil cases for victims of crimes and other injustices. The law firm is also deeply involved in causes that assist victims of crimes including through Mothers Against Drunk Driving and through the National Crime Victim Bar Association.

Recently, a five-part series by The Guardian examined the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct and questionable practices among local law enforcement agencies, which garnered attention nationwide. And among the cases highlighted were those of local victims involved  wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

They included David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.

In another highlighted case, Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison.

If you or someone you know is the victim of a crime, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Publication highlights ‘America’s deadliest police’ of Kern County, law firm cases

December 2, 2015 | 7:35 am


The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States — unveiled its five-part series that examines the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County.

And among the cases highlighted are many of those involving wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

PART I

The first in the five-part series, “The story of America’s deadliest police,” tackles the issue of how police officers in Kern County are reportedly responsible for killing more local residents per capita than in any other county in the country — 13 people in Kern, or about 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.

Reporters from The Guardian visited Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent weeks to interview clients of the law firm. Among them, for this part in the series, were family members of:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.
  • David Garcia, who was shot to death in January 2015 by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies while leaving his house unarmed. Deputies were called to the house to assist on a suicide attempt call.

PART II

The second part of the series, “Where deputies dole out rough justice,” highlights how the brutal tactics of officers in Kern County have ended lives, cost the public millions, and prompted claims of a police force out of control.

This part also highlights a few cases represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, including:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.
  • James Moore was beaten to death by several deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department while housed in central receiving downtown Bakersfield jail. On behalf of his family, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit. Three deputies were prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their roles in James’ death. The case settled for $6 million.

PART III

The third part in the series, “Sexual assault and the price of silence,” tackles how law enforcement officers in Kern County secretly tried to “buy off” victims in sexual misconduct cases against the men sworn to protect them.

This part includes comments from Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys David Cohn and Neil Gehlawat related to several cases of sexual assault involving Kern County Sheriff’s Department employees. They include:

  • Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy Anthony Michael Lavis. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • Jane Doe, a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
  • Lori Kaplan, a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.
  • Two claims against the County of Kern on behalf of two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1. He is currently facing six felony charges including sexual battery, assault by a public officer and child molestation. Jane Doe 2, who was also housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. That suspect, George Anderson, has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

PART IV

The fourth part of the series, “Partners in crime,” details how Kern County officers plan to continue policing themselves. The findings by The Guardian — that Kern County officers kill more people per capita than in any other U.S. county so far in 2015 — lend weight to claims from critics that police in Kern County are effectively policed only by themselves, the article states.

The article also highlights officer-involved crashes and the investigations that take place following the crashes. In particular, the article highlights three deputy-involved fatal crashes. In all three, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed claims and lawsuits on behalf of their families. They include:

  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley, who were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.
  • Nancy Garrett, who was killed in September 2014 in Oildale when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy. The civil case is ongoing.
  • Larry Maharrey, who was killed when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The civil case is ongoing.

PART V

The fifth and final part, “A fight for answers,” focuses on what happens to the families of those who are killed by police officers.

“When someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, he leaves behind parents and children, loss and confusion,” The Guardian writes. “What’s to be done when those people sworn to protect you are the same people who pull the trigger?”

The 13-minute video follows around the family members of those killed in officer-involved shootings as they campaign for justice of their loved ones. The video also follows around officers as the conduct their difficult jobs, and includes interviews with Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.

THE SERIES

The Guardian’s series is part of its project called The Counted, highlighting the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, “to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.”

“The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US,” according to The Guardian.

Why is this necessary? According to The Guardian, the U.S. government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. And this lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by fatal police shootings.

To read more about the series, click the media coverage below:

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THE GUARDIAN SERIES

LOCAL MEDIA COVERAGE