A video released recently showing Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood telling an employees union that it is better “financially” to kill suspects than to “cripple” them has sparked controversy locally and nationwide.
In the one-minute video filmed in 2006 during his first campaign for sheriff, Youngblood is seen seated at a table discussing deputy trainings and the cost to the sheriff’s office due to police violence.
The Bakersfield Californian described a portion of the video:
Youngblood, in response to a question about officer training, said that detention deputies are trained more extensively than they used to be because of the cost the county faces when deputies kill or injure a person.
“There’s a good reason for that: millions and millions of dollars,” Youngblood said. “You know what happens if a guy makes a bad shooting on somebody — kills them,” Youngblood said. “Three million bucks and the family goes away.”
It’s “a totally different ballgame” when it happens in a jail to an inmate who is in restraints and surrounded by multiple officers, Youngblood said.
“It’s no different than when a deputy shoots someone on the streets, which way do you think is better financially? To cripple them or kill them, for the county,” Youngblood asks.
“Kill them,” said a voice from the audience.
“Absolutely,” Youngblood replies. “Because if we cripple them we get to take care of them for life, and that cost goes way up.”
The comments from the video were related to a discussion about the 2005 in-custody beating death of James Moore, who was beaten by several Kern County detentions deputies. That wrongful death case, represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Moore’s family, resulted in a $6 million settlement. The killing also led to criminal charges against the deputies.
Lawyer Matt Clark said Youngblood’s comments speak to a culture within the sheriff’s department that life is not valued, and shared that families of victims of wrongful death at the hands of sheriff’s deputies — of which there have been several in recent years — are upset over the sheriff’s comments.
“Doesn’t that provide a mindset in that department that human life isn’t worth that much?” Clark said. “Having represented families who have lost loved ones due to the negligent and sometimes criminal conduct of the sheriff’s department, I can tell you (the families of victims) are not pleased to hear that.”
Specifically, Clark discussed several wrongful death, civil rights, and excessive force cases represented in recent years by Chain | Cohn | Stiles:
- Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were pushing the motorcycle to a relative’s house crossing Norris Road in Oildale when they were struck and killed by a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy patrol car, speeding with lights and sirens off. The wrongful death case settled for $8.8 million.
- Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her.
- On July 14 2015, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road when a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy 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.
- 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. A wrongful death lawsuit settlement was reached in May 2016 for $3.4 million.
In most of these cases, deputies suffered little consequences or punishment despite breaking department policies in the situations that led to these tragic deaths, Clark said.
This isn’t the first time the Kern County Sheriff’s Office has been the center of controversy for its practices and history of deadly force.
In December 2015, The Guardian publication unveiled its five-part series that examined the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County. Then in 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California published a report following a two-year study that concluded law enforcement agencies in Kern County have engaged in patterns of excessive force and systematically violated the civil rights of local residents. The California Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating patterns of excessive force and civil rights violations in Kern County’s departments.
If you or someone you know is the victim of excessive force, police misconduct, or other civil rights violations, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.