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

June 1, 2016 | 8:32 am


* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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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*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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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‘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?”

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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.

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‘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.”

 

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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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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New Chain | Cohn | Stiles videos focus on commitment to helping injured victims, families

April 6, 2016 | 9:54 am


“You may have a lot on your mind, but we’ll only have one thing on ours — you.”

That’s the message that the Bakersfield-based accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants viewers to know with the law firm’s new 30-second videos.

“Our message is that we hope you are never in need of an accident or injury attorney, but in the unfortunate event that you do, we can guarantee that you and your family will be our No. 1 priority,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We’ll make sure we take care of any and all legal issues so you can focus on your family. And we’ll do everything we can to help you recover and put the pieces back together for you and your family.”

Five new videos are currently airing on television and computer screens across Kern County, and are focused on specific legal practice areas local residents may be dealing with. They feature people who are coping with the fallout of an injury. Each video also features an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles who has experience and expertise in handling cases similar to those victims highlighted in the videos.

You can watch all of the videos here:

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also developed a Spanish video to be able to speak to the large Hispanic and Latino population throughout Kern County. Watch that video here:

The videos were produced with the help of Scope Studios in Bakersfield, and feature a double exposure technique that allows multiple elements of injury cases to be highlighted. Scope and Chain | Cohn | Stiles have partnered in years past to convey on video the experiences of injured clients of the law firm in the form of client testimonial, and also share the stories of the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. Those “Meet the Attorneys” videos were winners in the Legal Marketing Association’s “Your Honor Awards.” Click the links below to watch those videos:

If you or someone in you know are injured in an accident, call the attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat comments on juvenile hall sex assault verdict

March 23, 2016 | 7:55 am


* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has released a statement after a jury found a correctional officer accused of sexually assaulting a teenage inmate at Juvenile Hall not guilty.

The personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed 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.

In one of the cases, Jane Doe 1 was housed at James G. Bowles Juvenile Hall from June 2014 through February 2015. While there, she enrolled in the Pathways Academy commitment program. Throughout September 2014, Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar allegedly sexually assaulted her. When she reported the incident, supervisors initiated an administrative and criminal investigation. On Oct. 30, 2014, Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1.

Navejar was found not guilty by a jury, and attorney Neil Gehlawat released a statement to Kern County media following the verdict:

“My client and I are obviously disappointed in today’s outcome, but we remain committed to obtaining justice on behalf of our client through the civil case. I believe that we will be able to obtain critical information regarding this incident through the discovery process, including the Kern County Probation Department’s own investigation of the incident.  The outcome of the criminal case will not have an effect on the civil case, and I believe the evidence in the civil case will show that this incident of sexual assault did in fact occur.”

Gehlawat also told The Bakersfield Californian that further investigation, including questioning of Navejar, can take place now that the criminal case is over. He said the teen has suffered significant emotional distress stemming from the alleged assault. A trial date for the civil case has not yet been scheduled.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles responds to Kern County DA’s office decision to not file charges in wrongful death case

March 16, 2016 | 7:55 am


The attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles responded to the recent decision by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office to not pursue criminal charges against the deputy involved in the fatal crash in Bakersfield that killed motorcyclist Larry Maharrey.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim related to the crash. On July 14, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road, when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light. And the California Highway Patrol Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team suggested a vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez.

The widow of Larry Maharrey, Paula Maharrey, as well as Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matthew Clark, shared their statements with local media regarding the District Attorney’s Office decision to not file charges against Sgt. Gomez in the fatal crash:

PAULA MAHARREY, WIDOW

“I’m very disappointed by the District Attorney’s refusal to prosecute Sgt. Gomez. My family is upset by the fact that the District Attorney and Sgt. Gomez are both employees of the County of Kern. It appears that one county agency is defending another, and it screams of a conflict of interest. We wish that an independent investigating agency such as the state Attorney General’s Office would look into this matter. We are also saddened by the fact that the needless loss of my husband’s life will do nothing to discourage this kind of reckless driving in the future.”

MATTHEW CLARK, ATTORNEY

“I, like my clients, are very disappointed in the Office of the District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Sgt. Gomez. We’ve had four innocent lives lost in the county in the last four years due to the reckless driving exhibited by some employees of Kern County Sheriff’s Department. This is the most offensive kind of loss of life in light of the fact that people are being killed by those very officers who have taken on a duty to protect them.

“In an approximately 250-page report, the CHP Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team concluded that Sgt. Gomez’s conduct substantiated a violation of California Penal Code Section 192 (c) (2) – Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter. The District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute appears to be in conflict of interest given the fact that the District Attorney and Sgt. Gomez are both employees of the County of Kern.

Without question, Sgt. Gomez conduct in this case was in violation of Kern County Sheriff’s Office policy regarding emergency driving in that he failed to pre-clear the lanes of the intersection. His failure to do so killed Larry Maharrey. The failure to prosecute sends the wrong message to law enforcement, suggesting that they are above the law.”

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit in case of Tehachapi teenager killed in DUI hit-and-run

February 17, 2016 | 10:41 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian — a Tehachapi teenage girl — in which the driver was driving under the influence, according to California Highway Patrol reports.

Local media covered a press conference Wednesday morning hosted by Matthew C. Clark and Neil Gehlawat from the personal injury and workers’ compensation* law firm. They were joined by the mother and sister of Leslie Balderrama, who was killed in October last year.

Read the news release and click the media links to see full coverage of the press conference and criminal case.

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Bakersfield, Calif. – Leslie Elaine Balderrama was a freshman at Tehachapi High School who excelled in school and out of school, including on the basketball court and through various volunteer endeavors. Add her contagious smile and bright personality, and Leslie was in a league of her own, her family says.

On Oct. 10, 2015, Leslie was walking home from a friend’s house when she was suddenly struck by a pickup truck on the dirt right shoulder of State Route 202.  She eventually succumbed to her injuries, just 15 days shy of her 15th birthday.

The occupants of the truck – Issac Macias, 20, and passenger Ibrahim Essa Gomes, 19 – fled the scene of the crash without calling the police or summoning medical help.  Both Macias and Gomes were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.  After the pickup collided with Leslie, Gomes got out of the pickup and looked at her, telling CHP officers later that “she didn’t look like she got that messed up,” despite her not moving. Macias never got out of the pickup.

Despite driving under the influence of alcohol, killing Balderrama, and fleeing the scene, Macias to this date has not been charged with a crime. Gomes, too, has not been charged.

On Wednesday, Chain | Cohn | Stiles will file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Leslie’s mother, Evelyn Denise Natividad, against Macias and Gomes, as well as Exelon Generation Company, LLC and First Solar, Inc., who employed Macias at the time of the collision and entrusted him with the pickup.

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During the press conference, attorney Matt Clark called the suspects in the crash “despicable” and said he has confidence that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office is working on filing criminal charges against the two.

“In my opinion, that is truly despicable conduct. They have every obligation to summon medical help,” Clark said of the hit-and-run under the influence that left Leslie dead. “I have every reason to believe charges are coming. In this type of case, there really needs to be an example set.”

Additionally, mother Denise Natividad spoke about her daughter, and her commitment to school, sports and her community.

“It’s hard every day I have to live without her.”

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles settles K-9 dog bite case against County of Kern for record $2 million

January 13, 2016 | 8:49 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has settled a lawsuit on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what is the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database.

On July 21, 2013, Erin Casey (21 years old at the time) was attacked by a K-9 dog accompanying a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy while outside of a restaurant in north Bakersfield. Responding to a domestic dispute, the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and began walking toward Casey. At that time, the K-9 exited the patrol car, ran toward Casey and began biting her for 60 to 90 seconds. Casey suffered several major bite wounds to her leg.

Investigation found that the K-9 escaped from its holding kennel in the back of the patrol car due to a mechanical defect inside of the car. The deputy agreed that the K-9 should not have been let out of the patrol car. In addition, the K-9 failed to respond to commands from the deputy to cease attacking.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against the County of Kern shortly after the incident on behalf of Casey.  The parties recently agreed on a settlement for $2 million, a record amount against a public entity in California for a dog bite case, VerdictSearch records show.

Casey was represented by attorneys Matt Clark from Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“Law enforcement K-9s are capable of inflicting serious injuries, including death, which is why it is imperative that they only be released when necessary, and in accordance with departmental protocols,” said Clark, lead attorney on the case. “Also, when they are released, they must be under the control of their handler. In this instance, everyone agreed that the K-9 should not have been released, and once it latched onto Ms. Casey, the deputy failed to control his dog. As a result of this mistake, Ms. Casey sustained severe, life-altering injuries.

Clark added: “We believe this settlement fairly compensates Ms. Casey for her loss.”

If you or someone you know has been attacked by a dog, contact the dog bite attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Wrongful death, auto accident cases headline million-dollar results in 2015

January 6, 2016 | 11:31 am


As the New Year begins, let’s take a look back at 2015 at several real results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

$6 Million – Wrongful Death

Jesse Rios was going for his routine morning jog when he was struck and killed an employee of West Coast Casing, LLC. The driver was driving a company truck home from work when he fell asleep at the wheel in a residential neighborhood, allowing his truck to veer up onto the sidewalk, where he struck Jesse.

Jesse left behind a young daughter, a new wife, and his devastated mother. Before his death, Jesse had worked two jobs to help care and support his family.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his family’s behalf, claiming that Eliseo Soto was negligent when he fell asleep at the wheel.

During the lawsuit, it was discovered the driver had previously had an accident due to falling asleep at the wheel. Also, he admitted that he was tired on the morning of the accident and that he should have pulled over to the side of the road and slept. In addition to proving that both the driver and West Coast Casing, LLC, were liable for the accident, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was able to prove that Jesse, a cook and dishwasher at two chain restaurants, would have financially supported his young family for many years to come.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles retained vocational and economic experts to prove the value of Jesse’s financial contribution to the family. The case settled at mediation for $6 million less than seven months after the accident.

$3.5 million – Big Rig Accident

The plaintiff was driving in his work truck as he was returning to Bakersfield, having performed a job in Lancaster, Calif. As the plaintiff was traveling on the high-way, a dust storm caused visibility to drop to almost zero. The plaintiff came to a stop, as vehicles in front of him stopped. At that time, the defendant, who was driving a tractor trailer for Market Transport, failed to see traffic stopped ahead of him, and he rear-ended the plaintiff.

The plaintiff did not seek immediate medical care after the accident. Instead, his employer drove him back to Bakersfield, and he sought urgent care treatment later that same day. Upon retaining Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the lawyers suggested that the plaintiff seek additional emergency medical care. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a brain bleed.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit against the defendant and his employer, Market Transport, for negligence in the big rig accident.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, recognizing the significance of the plaintiff’s injuries, asked that he be evaluated by a neurologist. Ultimately, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. Chain | Cohn | Stiles retained experts in neurology, psychology, neuropsychology, endocrinology, vocational rehabilitation and economics to offer opinions regarding the plaintiff’s future needs.

The case ultimately settled at second mediation for $3.5 million.

$2.35 million – Auto Accident

The plaintiff was driving a 20016 GMC Denali safely northbound in Tehachapi. At the same time and place, a driver of a 2007 Sterling truck was going northbound on the same road while in the course and scope of employment for Shred-It USA Inc.

The defendant carelessly and unlawfully maintained and operated the vehicle so as to cause a crash and rear-end the plaintiff’s vehicle, which caused serious and permanent injuries to his body. As a result, the plaintiff suffered a disability and was unable to resume his pre-injury occupation as a correctional officer.

The case settled in 2015 for $2.35 million.

$2.15 million – Industrial Accident

Plaintiff John Doe was a tractor trailer driver assigned to pick up a load of pipe from Doe Pipe Manufacturer, loaded by the company, and deliver it to a customer in Colorado. The plaintiff’s only involvement in loading the pipe was throwing straps over the load to secure it. When he arrived in Colorado, he began unstrapping the load, when a large piece of pipe rolled, striking plaintiff’s foot. He suffered a broken foot, and eventually developed Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit against Doe Pipe Manufacturer, alleging they negligently loaded the pipe. Specifically, the firm alleged the defendant failed to place anti-roll blocking or chalks around the piece of pipe. The defendant claimed they were not responsible, citing federal safety regulations that state truck drivers are responsible for the safety and securement of loads.

In addition to its trucking expert, Chain | Cohn | Stiles hired a computer graphics expert to create a simulation of the load on the plaintiff’s truck, which proved the plaintiff could not see the top of his load to ensure that the pipe on top was properly chalked into place, and the defendant prohibited him from climbing on top of his load to check. Chain | Cohn | Stiles also retained medical experts to assist in determining what future medical care the plaintiff would require.

The case settled before the court for $2.15 million.

$2 Million – Dog Bite

The plaintiff called the Kern County Sheriff’s Office for assistance with domestic violence. Her child’s father was being abusive.

When Sheriff’s department officers arrived, the plaintiff began walking toward the deputy’s patrol car, and the K-9 inside of the patrol car was released, and began attacking the plaintiff. The department claimed the K-9 was released accidentally.

The dog bite case settled with the County of Kern for $2 million.

$1 million – Wrongful Death

John Doe was a resident in a residential care facility that specialized in the care of adults with severe developmental disabilities.

While in the home, John Doe got into an argument with one of the home’s staff members. John Doe punched the staff member in the face, which resulted in several additional staff members physically restraining John Doe, face down, on the home’s floor. John Doe was restrained for a period of approximately 14 minutes, during which time he stopped breathing. No one from the home attempted to resuscitate John Doe, and he was not provided with any medical care until law enforcement and paramedics arrived on scene.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of John Doe’s mother.

Throughout litigation, the group home contended that it was not at fault for John Doe’s death, and that instead his death was due to his poor health. Moreover, the group home contended that John Doe started the altercation, by punching the staff member. Chain | Cohn | Stiles  was successful in proving that the group home should have provided special training to its staff, including training for how to safely restrain someone such as John Doe.

The case settled for insurance policy limits of $1 million.

$810,000 – Workers’ Compensation

The plaintiff was injured when a drill fell on his shoulder, causing severe injuries to his neck, upper back, shoulder and chest. The client and his family came to Chain | Cohn | Stiles because they needed help dealing with the complicated nature of the injuries and the consequences it was having on all of them.

The total guaranteed payout to the client came out to $810,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.

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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.

‘Payoffs’ of victims of sexual assault by Kern County officers under local scrutiny

December 30, 2015 | 3:00 am


A five-part series examining the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct and questionable practices among local law enforcement agencies has garnered attention nationwide, including in Kern County.

The series was conducted by The Guardian, a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States, which found, among other things, that police in Kern County killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015.

But one issue in particular highlighted in the series caught the attention of local residents and local media.

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.

“In no way shape or form is the method that they use involving these victims ethical,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David Cohn told KGET-17.

This part of the series also includes comments attorneys Neil Gehlawat related to several cases of sexual assault involving Kern County Sheriff’s Department employees. The cases highlighted 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.
  • Jane Doe 2, 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.

Local news outlets interviewed attorneys of Chain | Cohn | Stiles about the cases and the County of Kern’s questionable practices, and also interviewed county counsel, who argued that the practice is both legal and ethical.

Said Gehlawat in The Bakersfield Californian article: “This is reprehensible, these payoffs. They show up with cash in hand and try to pay off these victims.”

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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MEDIA COVERAGE