Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolves wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of family of motorcyclist killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy patrol car

May 9, 2018 | 9:34 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.

The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.

The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.

“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.

Clark continued: “It’s incredibly unfortunate an innocent man died. Maharrey’s family is satisfied with the resolution, but it’s not like the resolution will bring him back.”

On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the 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 the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.

Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed 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, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.

MEDIA COVERAGE

Kern County Sheriff’s comments from leaked video on cost of deadly force causes controversy

April 18, 2018 | 9:53 am


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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark discussed Youngblood’s comments recently while on The Richard Beene Show on KERN Radio 1180, 96.1. You can listen to the full interview here.

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.

ACLU report outlines civil rights violations in Kern County, highlights Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases

November 15, 2017 | 9:31 am


The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has published a report following a two-year study that concludes law enforcement agencies in Kern County – specifically the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office – have engaged in patterns of excessive force and systematically violated the civil rights of local residents.

ACLU calls on the two departments to reform their policies, re-train and re-orient line and supervisory officers “towards a culture that emphasizes the consistent use of tactical alternatives to force and consequences for the use of unreasonable, unnecessary, or disproportionate force, and establish rigorous and independent oversight institutions to ensure the departments remain accountable and responsive to the communities they serve.

Many of the excessive force, civil rights, and wrongful death cases outlined in the report are and were represented by the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. In response to the report, the law firm released the following statement.

“We are encouraged, but not surprised, that the ACLU has determined that both Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office have violated the rights of many individuals in this community. We have reached the same conclusion over the course of the many cases we’ve prosecuted against officers in both departments. In some cases, these officers have faced criminal prosecution, but in the vast majority they have not. In those cases where criminal prosecution is off the table, these departments vigorously defend the officers, find their conduct to be within policy, and instead direct their attention toward blaming the victims. We hope the Attorney General’s Office will take these findings into account as they continue to investigate both departments. The hope – at the end of the day – is that the Attorney General’s Office will take action against these departments that will spark institutional change and restore the community’s faith in law enforcement.”

Read the full report here.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is already carrying investigating patterns of excessive force and civil rights violations in the two departments. The reports and investigations follows a five-part series by The Guardian publication that found these Kern County departments killed people at a higher rate than any other U.S. agencies in 2015. The series uncovered a culture of violence, secrecy and corruption in the county’s two largest police departments. Among the cases highlighted were those involving wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

———-

MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles matches donation to MADD Kern County by mother of Tehachapi teenager who died after being struck, killed by DUI driver

August 23, 2017 | 8:44 am


The mother of Leslie Balderrama, a Tehachapi teenager who was struck and killed by a DUI driver in 2015, has donated $2,500 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County, following the settlement of her wrongful death lawsuit.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the law firm that represented mother Denise Natividad, matched the donation. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

“When we became victims of a DUI crime, MADD Kern County became our advocate and worked hard to make sure we had a voice, and treated our family with compassion,” said Denise Natividad, mother of Leslie Balderrama. “We’re able to give back now and help another local family who unfortunately will have to deal with the aftermath of the actions of a drunk or drugged driver.”

Added Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the Natividad family:

“The crash that claimed the life of Leslie Baldarrama was incredibly tragic and 100 percent avoidable like all DUI crashes. Our law firm is honored to continue to help MADD Kern County, and it’s touching to know that Leslie’s family feels the same way.”

The $5,000 will go toward the fourth annual Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, MADD Kern County’s annual event that raises funds to help innocent victims of local DUI crashes, raises awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and helps fund MADD Kern County programs, including the court advocate program that helped the Natividad family through the criminal trial. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is serving as a presenting sponsor for the event.

“Our wish is to get to a point where MADD Kern County’s services aren’t needed,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist with MADD Kern County. “Until then, we’re grateful for the support from Denise Natividad, which helps us continue to advocate for victims, and fight to end drunk and drugged driving in Kern County forever.”

The 2017 Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash will be held the morning of Sept. 23 at Park at River Walk. You can help by signing up to walk, run (free kid’s fun run, 5K or 10K), joining as a team captain, donating or volunteering. The family of Leslie Balderrama has formed a team, and will be in attendance. For more information, go to walklikemadd.org/bakersfield.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, with 4,056 DUI arrests in 2016, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. That’s more than 11 DUI arrests per day. Sadly, many impaired drivers weren’t stopped in time, and instead caused major damage to innocent lives.

———

If you or someone you know is injured in a crash at the fault of someone else, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

———

MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS MEDIA COVERAGE

Fatal Hit-and-Run

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Sentencing

Wrongful death case involving speeding deputy continues after plea deal in criminal case

April 26, 2017 | 9:37 am


A former Kern County Sheriff’s deputy has pleaded “no contest” in connection with a crash that killed a 72-year-old Oildale woman in 2014, a crash also connected to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of her family.

Nicholas Clerico will receive three years probation, must pay a $570 fine and serve 240 hours of community service after pleading no contest on April 25 to a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when Clerico struck and killed her in his speeding patrol car. The filing came after the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report found Deputy Clerico at fault in the September 2014 crash, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark, who is representing Garrett’s family in the case, commented to local media on Clerico’s plea and the ongoing wrongful death civil lawsuit.

“In talking with the family, they’re glad that (Clerico) has finally accepted some responsibility for what he did,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian, adding that the family, however, has not received closure, and continues to mourn Garrett’s loss. “This was no accident. This was totally preventable.”

Family members have described Nancy as a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Garrett’s family is seeking changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained to drive. Her death, unfortunately, is not the only one related to driving by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies.

  • Larry Maharrey 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. That wrongful death case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, is ongoing.
  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley 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. Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled that case in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

———

PLEA DEAL MEDIA COVERAGE

PAST CASE 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


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

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.

———

MEDIA COVERAGE

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. Attorney 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.

———

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.

‘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.

———

MEDIA COVERAGE

———

*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.

———

‘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.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

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.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

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.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

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.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

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.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

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.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

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 *

MEDIA COVERAGE

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.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS MEDIA COVERAGE